The future of public health depends on data sharing


For years, state and local government agencies have been focusing on improving public health and the patient experience through technological innovation, such as electronic medical records, patient portals, and telehealth. While those initiatives are gaining ground, the next step in digital healthcare is the ability to easily share relevant data with the right people and at the right time — while adhering to privacy laws.

For example, in the US, many states are setting up prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to facilitate better patient care as well as prevent drug abuse, specifically opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a PDMP is an “electronic database that tracks controlled substance prescriptions in a state.”

PDMPs are a critical component of Overdose Data to Action (OD2A) funding for state and local health departments in the US. They rely on data sharing among health providers and pharmacies in order to have a comprehensive view into a patient’s current and past prescriptions. State agencies can also use PDMPs to gain insights into public health patterns and trends to make longer-term policy decisions.

When implemented thoughtfully and strategically, PDMPs can leverage the strengths of various organizations that contribute to public health: agencies at both the state and local level, law enforcement, healthcare providers, and pharmacies. Ultimately, the success of a PDMP comes down to data — whether it’s accessible, unified, secure, and shareable (with the right people).

As you look to set up or augment a PDMP, here are a few data-centric considerations to bear in mind.

High-level data considerations for PDMP

1. Data integration

PDMPs need to be fully interoperable and integrate data from multiple, disparate sources such as pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and law enforcement agencies. This requires establishing data-sharing agreements, developing data standards, enacting role-based data sharing protocols, and building secure data transfer mechanisms across systems.

2. Data quality

It is essential for data in a PDMP to be accurate and complete to ensure effectiveness. However, data quality can be compromised due to human error, data entry errors, missing and/or incomplete information, and inconsistencies.

3. Data privacy 

PDMPs contain sensitive patient data, and ensuring that this information is secured is crucial. PDMPs are required to comply with federal and state regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and implement high-level encryption, user access control, and other sophisticated security measures to meet these requirements.

4. Data analysis 

Effectively analyzing PDMP data can provide valuable insights into prescribing patterns, patient behavior, and opioid misuse, abuse, and overdose trends. However, analyzing this data can prove very complicated because they require sophisticated analytics tools, tool expertise, and large and complex data sets.

5. Data availability 

When medical providers are looking up prescription data, there can’t be any lags or downtime. Otherwise, it will quickly become an exploitable loophole in the process. Make sure that all your data (whether historical or current) is readily accessible and quickly searchable so you’re always working in real time.

How Elastic can help the healthcare industry leverage PDMP efficiently

1. Data sharing 

Collaboration and interoperability are at the heart of Elastic’s technology. Our ecosystem-based approach can help public health providers integrate their PDMP data with other data sources and share that data with federal, state, and private organizations that need real-time access to it. Elastic’s role-based data sharing capabilities let you set rules around who is able to see what data types — ensuring that sensitive data remains protected. 

2. Data analysis 

Elastic’s Kibana data visualization capabilities democratize data by enabling anyone — not just data scientists — to identify patterns and trends related to opioid prescribing and use. This capability can extend to leveraging maps and geospatial data, as well as artificial intelligence (AI). As a result, healthcare organizations can identify areas of improvement in prescribing practices and create targeted interventions to address drug misuse and abuse. 

3. Real-time monitoring

With its machine learning (ML) capabilities, Elastic can be leveraged to monitor PDMP data in real time and identify anomalous prescribing patterns or behaviors. This can help healthcare providers quickly identify potential drug diversion or overprescribing and take appropriate action. Lags in data, even for short periods of time, can create loopholes in the system that weaken PDMP enforcement.

4. Search capabilities 

Elastic’s search capabilities — which also leverage the power of AI and ML —  can be used to quickly find and retrieve relevant PDMP data, no matter where it resides (at an agency or a provider, for example), making it easier for healthcare providers to find data fast while complying with state and federal PDMP reporting requirements.

5. Scalability 

With its highly scalable platform, Elastic allows healthcare providers to manage large volumes of PDMP data efficiently and effectively. Because of its foundation as a search platform, Elastic has the ability to find relevant PDMP data at speed and scale.

Who can benefit from leveraging Elastic with their PDMP?

1. Primary health physicians 

Physicians are often the first point of contact for those looking for medical care. They are responsible for prescribing and managing a large portion of opioids, making them a critical part of the effort to prevent opioid misuse and abuse. 

2. Pain management clinics 

Pain management clinics are responsible for treating people with chronic pain, often involving the use of opioids. These clinics use PDMPs to monitor opioid administration and patient use. They can coordinate with other health providers to ensure that a patient receives appropriate care, all while ensuring legal reporting requirements are met.

3. Behavioral and mental health providers 

Behavioral and/or mental health providers help patients who are at the highest risk of opioids misuse and abuse. These providers, which include psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, are critical to address opioid misuse. They can use PDMP data to monitor substance use, assess a patient’s risk, and tailor treatment plans accordingly.

4. Pharmacies 

Pharmacies also play a vital role in prescription and dispensing of opioids. PDMPs can be used by pharmacies to monitor drug use and administration. They can use PDMP data to check a patient’s history, their medication regimen, and/or suspicious activity that they can quickly report to law enforcement or regulatory authorities. 

5. Policy makers

Policy makers are responsible for allocating resources to effectively address drug abuse. For example, they can identify drug abuse in certain geographical areas or populations and create positive policies that improve patient safety. 

6. Law enforcement 

Law enforcement agencies can use PDMP data to investigate prescription fraud, such as individuals or entities obtaining opioids using forged prescriptions or from multiple health providers. They can also monitor health providers and identify cases of drug diversion, such as selling controlled substances to a patient without a prescription. 

Elastic can help by giving physicians, pain management clinics, behavioral and mental health providers, and pharmacies the ability to integrate and analyze PDMP data, identify patients who may be at risk of abuse or misuse, and develop a targeted intervention and action plan to address those risks before they occur. 

Learn more about the benefits of a unified data platform

Read more about how public sector organizations can facilitate data sharing, reduce tool sprawl, and eliminate data silos: A strategic guide to putting your data to work in public sector.