The President’s Podium: Encouraging Prescriber Education  

by James S.  Gessner, M.D., President, Massachusetts Medical Society

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Massachusetts Medical Society has been the leading health care organization in the Commonwealth responding to the opioid epidemic. For more than a year, we have been working with state and public health officials, legislators and other health care leaders and have developed multiple responses to address the crisis.  Gessner Crop

My predecessor, Dr. Dennis Dimitri, has been extraordinary in leading MMS over the past year and making the crisis the society’s number one priority. As Chairman of the Task Force on Opioid Therapy and Communication, I was privileged to be part of those efforts.

One of our major activities has centered on education, for both patients and physicians.  We have created a website and produced public service and video programs for patients, urging proper storage and disposal, consideration of alternative therapies, and discussions with their physicians on how best to treat pain.

One area we’re having significant impact is prescriber education.

This effort began with the issuance of our Opioid Therapy and Physician Communication Guidelines in May of 2015.  Developed with the most relevance for physicians and health professionals in primary care — those who prescribe the majority of pain medications – these guidelines were subsequently adopted by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine and incorporated into its comprehensive advisory to physicians on prescribing issues and practices.

In that same month, we started offering our continuing medical education courses on opioids and pain management free to all prescribers. We recognized early that prescriber education would be a critical step in addressing the opioid epidemic and that our society could make a significant contribution by sharing our resources.

The response to these courses has been encouraging indeed.

In a span of 13 months, from May 2015 through June 20 of this year, a total of 15, 175 of the Society’s continuing medical education courses in pain management and safe opioid prescribing have been completed by 5,265 individuals. Of those, 86 percent are physicians, and 66 percent practice in Massachusetts.

We currently offer 18 opioid and pain management online courses, with a range of content. Among the topics are managing pain without overusing opioids, managing risk when prescribing narcotics, safe prescribing for chronic pain, screening and evaluation of substance abuse disorder, and alternative therapies to opioids.  These courses are reviewed and updated regularly, to provide health professionals with the latest information on opioids and pain management.

Our prescriber education efforts, however, have gone even further, to include working with state public health officials and the deans of the state’s four medical schools in creating core competencies on opioids and pain management for medical school students and reaching out to academic medical centers in developing similar educational offerings for residency training programs.

Prescriber education remains one of the critical steps to alleviating the opioid crisis – a fact recognized by Governor Charlie Baker, who also realizes the key role physicians must play in resolving this crisis: “I think we have to be incredibly vigilant and aggressive about working with our colleagues in the health care world on this if we expect to have any long-term success at all,” he told The Boston Globe.

Physicians have a unique role in health care, and we are clearly demonstrating that with our response to the opioid epidemic. MMS will continue its efforts to educate physicians, to improve prescribing practices and reduce the amount of drugs that can be abused or misused.

The President’s Podium appears periodically on the MMS blog, offering Dr. Gessner’s commentary on a range of issues in health and medicine.




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