VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System
VA Releases Opioid Prescribing Rates
PRESS RELEASE: VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System Part of First Hospital System to Release Opioid Prescribing Rates
Interactive Map Expands Transparency, Shows Opioids Dispensed Among VA Health Care Centers
HARLINGEN, Texas — On January 11,2018, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dr. David J. Shulkin announced that VA has begun publicly posting information on opioids dispensed from VA pharmacies, along with VA’s strategies to prescribe these pain medications more appropriately and safely. With this announcement, VA becomes the only health-care system in the country to post information on its opioid-prescribing rates.
“Many Veterans enrolled in the VA health-care system suffer from high rates of chronic pain and the prescribing of opioids may be necessary medically,” Secretary Shulkin said. “And while VA offers other pain-management options to reduce the need for opioids, it is important that we are transparent on how we prescribe opioids, so Veterans and the public can see what we are doing in our facilities and the progress we have made over time."
The VA is now the first hospital system in the country to post information on its opioid prescribing rates, and VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System (VATVCBHCS) is part of this innovation designed to raise awareness, increase transparency and mitigate the dangers of over-prescribing. The public sharing of this information is part of the Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI), which is a comprehensive effort to improve the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of Veterans suffering from chronic pain.
“There was a concerted effort in lowering the percentage of opioids prescribed,” said Dr. Shauna S. Kincheloe-Zaren, MD, who serves as the chief of staff at Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System. “The decrease in our percentages is a direct result of our commitment to not only promote safe prescribing practices, but also combat the broader opioid epidemic in the United States.”
Since 2012, the OSI has focused on the safe use and slow and steady decrease in VA opioid dispensing.
“We currently use a multifaceted approach to reduce the need for opioids, and as Secretary Shulkin stated the VA does indeed offer other pain-management options to reduce the need for opioids among our Veterans,” said Dr. Kincheloe-Zaren.
|Screen shot of interactive map showing opioid-dispensing rates for Harlingen VA Clinic. Map shows for opioid-dispensing rates each facility and how much those rates have changed over time.|
There is an emphasis on patient education, use of methods of pain management such as physical therapy; close patient monitoring with frequent feedback; and complementary and alternative medicine practices like acupuncture and yoga, for example.
In addition, VA has developed patient management initiatives including Pain Coach, which is a pain management app available for download by patients receiving pain management treatments; a Veterans’ Health Library, including a Quick Reference Guide on Opioid Safety; and resources for Pain Management on My HealtheVet.
These applications allow Veterans to better manage their pain with a decreased or even eliminated use of opioids. VA‘s measurement-based pain care includes the “Pain Scale,” which reduces uncertainty and helps Veterans by discussing the potential benefits of a medication and possible side effects.
The interactive map shows opioid-dispensing rates for each facility and how much those rates have changed over time. It does not include Veterans’ personal information. Users need to click on the interactive map to zoom in. Clicking on dots plotted on the interactive map will allow the rates to be displaced for each of the VA facilities respective to their geographical location.
It is important to note that because the needs and conditions of Veterans may be different at each facility, the rates of the use of opioids may also be different for that reason, and cannot be compared directly. The prescribing rate information will be updated semi-annually, on January 15 and July 15 of each year.
VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System is identified as the “Harlingen VA Clinic” in the interactive map. VATVCBHCS prescribing rate decreased from 13 percent to 8 percent, which translates to an overall decrease of 42 percent over a five-year period (2012-2017).
Opioid prescribing rates are calculated by dividing the number of Veterans who received any opioid prescription by the total number of Veterans who received a prescription from that pharmacy within the specified time period.
The interactive map categorizes the results for VATVCBHCS as, “Non-VA prescribing rate: Low.”
The "Low" Regional Non-VA comparison category represents the 40 percent of states with the lowest prescribing rates for Medicare beneficiaries.
Regional comparison categories were generated using publicly available data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS reports opioid prescribing rates by state, which are calculated by dividing the number of Medicare Part D claims for opioid medications by the total number of prescription claims.