Speakers Discuss Opioid Epidemic, Empowering Patients

Speakers Discuss Opioid Epidemic, Empowering Patients


The opioid epidemic has created a national public health crisis. In 2014, the American Medical Association (AMA) convened an Opioid Task Force to bring together national, state, specialty, and other healthcare associations to coordinate efforts within organized medicine to help end the epidemic.

On Tuesday in the Arie Crown Theater portion of the General Session, AHIMA President Valerie Watzlaf, PhD, MPH, RHIA, FAHIMA, discussed the scope of that work with Dr. David Barbe, MD, MHA, and Dr. Patrice Harris, MD, MA. Barbe is past president of the AMA, while Harris is the current AMA president and the first African-American woman to hold the position.

Harris, who chairs the AMA’s Opioid Task Force, said the initiative’s wins included awareness of how opioids are prescribed but added that the epidemic is not just one of supply but of demand. Alternatives to opioid treatment are needed. Increased access to Naloxone has saved tens of thousands of lives. And increased awareness that opioid use disorder is a medical illness—not a moral failing—has improved, she said.

Making a Difference with HIM

Both leaders agreed that better collaboration between clinicians and health information management (HIM) professionals makes a difference to patient care. “There can be reluctance for non-clinicians to approach clinicians…I would say, get over it,” Barbe said. “You help doctors take care of patients. Through data collection you can capture information more efficiently…Your clinical leadership will be receptive to ideas to make it easier.”

Ultimately, Harris said, the goal of the opioid initiative is better patient care. “The ultimate goal is, we are trying to save lives and improve care. If we’re not doing that, it doesn’t matter if we are meeting our metrics. We don’t want to meet the target but miss the point.” She encouraged audience members to “take the lead if you see data points that would help us care for patients. We need a partnership to harness the data, eliminate meaningless data, and get to data that can improve patient outcomes.”

During the second part of the Arie Crown General Session, AMA leaders Barbe and Harris joined AHIMA CEO Wylecia Wiggs Harris, PhD, CAE, in a discussion about leadership in healthcare.

Patrice Harris, who said she was inspired to become a doctor by the television show “Marcus Welby, MD,” told listeners that “You don’t have to be president and CEO to lead. You can lead within your team. Have a vision and have others embrace the vision. Keep a focus on your north star, and lead with authenticity.”

Barbe spoke about the importance of “servant leaderhood.” “If you show up, volunteer, and you are a servant leader, that establishes you as someone who has the good of the organization at heart. The best leaders are those who can be good followers. Your formal leaders will see that,” he said.

Both speakers acknowledged that the HIM professional has come a long way in clinicians’ perceptions. Patrice Harris noted that many HIM professionals probably feel like the healthcare counterparts to Hidden Figures—“Very important to the organization but not well known.” She added that changes such as new billing and technology requirements have led to a realization that “those folks who helped us with revenue were very critical to the success of the organization.”

“Many physicians in the past did not appreciate HIM professionals, but the advent of the EHR and tremendous changes such as ICD-10 and payment changes have really brought HIM to the fore,” Barbe said. “If any of you have reservations about interacting with clinician leadership at all, repress them. You will find a welcome and you can make our jobs better and easier.”

Improvement and Empowerment

Improvement and empowerment through innovation were the central themes speakers explored in the Innovation Theater portion of Tuesday’s General Session.

Alexandra Mugge, deputy chief health informatics officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), spoke on CMS interoperability and the power of the Patient Access Initiative.

According to Mugge, providing greater access to medical data is vital to improving healthcare. “CMS is dedicated to advancing interoperability throughout healthcare,” said Mugge. “We believe electronic data exchange is the future of healthcare, and interoperability is the foundation of value-based care.”

The way that patients interact with the healthcare industry is changing, Mugge shared during her keynote. “Patients are no longer passive participants; they now have the ability to be empowered consumers of their data that puts them in the driver’s seat to make the best and most informed decisions about their health.”

For providers, there is an equally important benefit to interoperability. “Providers who have historically been forced to work with incomplete information can now unlock huge amounts of data about their patients,” Mugge told AHIMA. “As the healthcare industry moves to value-based care, information and data are key to helping providers stay ahead and provide the best quality care to their patients.”

Payers, also critical players in healthcare, are uniquely positioned to benefit as a result of interoperability. “Those that innovate and evolve as the healthcare market is evolving will be the most successful,” Mugge said.

And HIM professionals will continue to play a critical role in the success of initiatives to enhance and improve healthcare. “HIM professionals are responsible for shaping the data that ultimately comes together as part of a patient’s complete healthcare picture,” Mugge said.

‘I Believed My Problem Was Solvable”

Doug Lindsay, who was bedridden and homebound for 11 years due to a mysterious illness, shared his inspiring story about his quest for medical solutions and the innovative surgery he ultimately developed that saved his life.

“I believed my problem was solvable,” Lindsay told the audience. “If you think you can’t solve it, you won’t.”

Doug Lindsay tells his story at the Innovation Theater General Session.

From the confinement of his bed, the biology major read journals, textbooks, articles, reviews, and case studies. His search led him to Dr. H. Cecil Coghlan, a medical professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who believed in Lindsay’s search for answers. Their combined efforts led to multiple medical scans that revealed bilateral adrenal medullary hyperplasia.

“I could have laid in a bed all day and just cried, but as a scientist you run to the experiment,” Lindsay told the crowd. “Doctors said that surgery wouldn’t help but they didn’t have the results of the experiment because my results weren’t in yet.”

No longer in a wheelchair, Lindsay now stands before audiences across the US as a sought-after speaker, lecturer, and transformational thought leader.

He is determined to help others suffering from rare conditions to find a space for answers and—hopefully—more cures. The Lindsay Center for Collaborative Care and Innovation is a reflection of his dedication to lead.

“Leadership is simply service with direction,” he said.  “And I believe in hope and the general belief that something positive can happen. When everything else falls away, there is something that you can hold onto. You want an orientation that facilitates getting work done.”

Lindsay credits his tenacity to his mom, who passed away in 2016. “She gathered all of her medical records and examined them to find something the doctors may have missed. She had planned to go to Mayo Clinic but was too sick to travel.”