Among the key tenets of our plan is education and awareness. We affirmed that we have a responsibility to educate patients on the issue. Our education program will work to inform patients who are chronically using or abusing opioids about all of the facts available about this class of drugs, particularly how highly addictive they are. Our message to patients will be that every time they visit one of our physicians we are here to provide great care and care management, some of which includes pain management.
In our internal research, we found that our hospitals were responding to the crisis but the response was not coordinated. It is one of the goals of the task force to coordinate our response. We also have provided leadership at the community level and now seek a larger role as a system.
One of our decisions is that we will modify our policies regarding how and when we use opioids. We will use them when appropriate and necessary but we also will use them judiciously every time a patient is admitted into the emergency department or into the hospital. We will consider non-opioids and alternate pain management modalities for treating acute pain. Alternatives we will consider include topical therapy, local injections, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, NSAIDs, IV Lidocaine and nitrous oxide.
When we determine that opioids are necessary, we will use short-acting ones. Nonetheless, there are several subsets of patients where we will not change our policies. These include cancer patients, patients who suffer from sickle cell disease, and those who are receiving palliative care.
We will engage in a dialogue with our patients on managing their pain and limiting their expectations. We will establish systemwide standardization and coordination of prescribing protocols in key risk areas. We also will consider systemwide efforts to improve pain management.
We will support and promote local community initiatives, along with a host of other recommendations.
Lastly, we will work to reduce the stigma regarding opioid addiction. With a problem that is the size and scope of the opioid epidemic, no single entity can turn the tide. However, if every organization that has a stake in the epidemic coordinates its response and takes a tougher stance and self-reflective examination on the use of opioids, we can all truly make a positive difference in the lives we touch.
Dr. Lily Henson, M.D., is the chief medical officer of Piedmont Henry Hospital. Dr. Frederick E. Willms, M.D., retired last December as chief medical officer of Piedmont Fayette Hospital.