If the clinicians, quality specialists, and administrators gathered at the third annual Partners HealthCare Patient Experience Summit took away one message regarding treating patients with substance use disorders, it was this: Treat these patients as if they have any other chronic illness like heart disease, diabetes, or HIV.

The event, held at Assembly Row, Somerville, was presented by the Partners Patient Experience Committee and the Department of Quality, Safety & Value, and covered issues ranging from navigating patient care with technology to shared decision-making tips for providers and patients. A powerful keynote and panel with patients in recovery focused on the opioid crisis and Partners’ work on substance use disorders. “This is an epidemic and it is getting worse,” explained Sarah Wakeman, MD, Medical Director, Substance Use Disorder Initiative, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). “If this was Ebola, we would marshall all of our resources and funding to change our practices. Heroin is accessible anytime, but treatment is not. We need to rethink our treatment models.”

One such model adopted by Partners is the use of recovery coaches—staff located in emergency departments or primary care practices who provide immediate, personalized support, even if the patient is not actively seeking treatment. Coaches can offer harm reduction techniques, culturally sensitive care, motivation, wellness planning, mobility and flexibility, and information on available support. The recovery coach model, now in place at MGH, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Newton Wellesley Hospital, and North Shore Medical Center, provides reason for optimism: Dramatic increases in utilization of primary care and behavioral health, and a decrease in inpatient hospitalizations, have already been reported with its use.

Summit speakers also noted that individualized treatment plans that include medications, lifestyle changes, monitoring, and behavioral support, can help prevent acute and chronic complications associated with opioid addiction in the same way they’re used to manage any other chronic illness. “There is a blame culture at the core of addiction—a stigma that it’s an issue of weak will or lack of morality,” added Tom Sequist, MD, Chief Quality Officer for Partners HealthCare. “That is simply wrong. It is up to us to correct these assumptions, challenge the language, and build care as we know it should be.”

Topics: Community Partnerships, Innovation, Substance Use Disorders

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