3 Best Practices for EMS Documenting Opioid Cases

  • Posted on August 19, 2019

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released concerning statistics about the use and abuse of opioids in the U.S., sparking a nationwide response to the duly named “opioid epidemic” and directives from as high as the White House to take immediate action. That year, opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths, more than any previous year on record, with an estimated 40% of opioid overdose deaths involving a prescription opioid.

Earlier this year, we stated we were hopeful that opioid overdoses were trending downward since they had fallen consistently in the second half of 2018, though the trend had not reached statistical significance. Unfortunately, the trend never did reach statistical significance, nor is it holding true for the first half of 2019, as evidenced in our 2019 ESO EMS Index: Mid-Year Update.

In fact, the proportion of all calls that are opioid overdoses is higher than what was observed last year. That said, it is still vital for EMS agencies to focus their efforts on preparing to encounter one of the nation’s top calls for medical response. First responders are not only challenged to respond to these calls but to document critical information to track trends and appropriate response protocols.

ESO recently released a best practice guide on documenting the opioid crisis, offering tips that not only help your team have a more effective response, but to gather data that can help form national and local response protocols and education on the epidemic. These best practices include:

1. Train on Key Terms and Usage

Ensure your team shares an understanding of proper usage of opioid-related terminology and documentation protocols. This may involve team discussions and training hours spent to align understanding before you formally add or change your processes for documentation. Be sure to research national standards and usage as well, so that your team can easily share and compare with peer statistics.

2. Track Narcan Administration

Recent federal recommendations and community programs have put a spotlight on naloxone and other overdose-reversal drugs being made available to the general public. To understand how these programs are impacting your community, track nalaxone admiration prior to EMS arrival. Additionally, if your team provides nalaxone to patients, you should track the disbursement of those kits. This not only helps you record the total number of patients receiving overdose-reversing drugs, but also informs on how this distribution affects overall opioid usage in your community.

3. Know Which Opioids Are in Use

While opioid consumption in all forms has grown substantially over the past few years, the use of synthetic opioids such as IMF (illicitly manufactured fentanyl) is responsible for a great number of overdoses and deaths. In fact, synthetic opioids increased the overdose death rate by 10.6 percent in 2016. When providers encounter opioids on scene, they should document the source of the opioid (prescribed to patient, illicit, prescribed to another person, etc.) as well as the name of the opioid consumed. Even if the drug has a counterfeit street name, recording this may be helpful in understanding drug usage patterns and consumptions within your area

While government agencies are devoting time and resources to combat the opioid crisis, this epidemic will continue to be an issue that first responders while on the job. Today’s top ePCR software is evolving to include tools to help better track the opioid epidemic. For example ESO’s EHR software includes specialty patient forms like the Syndromic Surveillance Overdose Form that make it quicker and easier to data points relating specifically to opioids.

To read the full guide, Documenting the Opioid Crisis: 6 Best Practices for First Responders – including three additional best practice guidelines – download it for today at ESO.com.