As we’ve written about recently, the opioid epidemic is at staggering levels, and touching millions of lives every year in the US.
While these are complex cases, the truth is that treating addiction is not something that exists as distinct from treating any patient — since any patient can experience addiction. And a recent article in the New York Times put a spotlight on how our medical education may be failing to prepare doctors effectively to treat patients with addiction.
The doctors, professors, and administrators in our medical education system are incredibly dedicated, and manage to adapt to a rapidly changing healthcare system. Some of the most satisfying work in my career has been my work with medical students and residents.
That said, there are always components of medical education that feel neglected, whether that's nutrition or alternative medicine. The care and treatment of addicted patients is no different, except for the staggering scale of the problem. In fact, addiction is contributing to 623,000 deaths each year in the US. And a new article explores whether our medical training is contributing to the shortcomings in how we care for these patients.
Realistically, the article documents what we're all aware of -- it's uncommon that there is sufficient training or support for doctors in caring for addicted patients. Most medical schools offer some training about opioids, but they rarely go very deep. New initiatives are aiming to create fellowships in addiction medicine -- but more trained fellows won't help the myriad of patients seeing providers in other fields who need solid training in how to care for them. But we also felt that some important perspectives were being left out of the conversation as represented in this article and the common ways of thinking about treating addicted patients.
5 things we know for sure about medical education and the treatment of addicted patients:
- Medical education can’t stop at graduation.
It concerns us that the conversation about education around caring for addicted patients is understood to be limited to medical school. In contrast, we've always had three core principles at ClickCare: access, collaboration, and education. We've baked education into every single aspect of how iClickCare works, since we believe that medical education should be a lifetime goal -- both as teachers and as students. The opioid epidemic is changing rapidly over time and so our medical education has to keep up -- it can't get stuck in decades-old coursework. Allowing teams to archive and search cases for education (using a tool like iClickCare) is crucial to this process.
- "Problem patients" are everyone's problem.
All healthcare providers face different pressures. But we believe that when you decide to become a doctor, we believe that it's no longer ethical to see complex patients or cases as "not my problem." One of the suggested solutions to the training gap is to create "addiction medicine" specialists rather than increasing training around addiction for all doctors. Is specializing in addiction really the way to go? Perhaps, all that does is let the rest of us off the hook for a very human dynamic that can happen to any patient and that we all need to be able to treat and recognize.
- We must teach each other.
We have different strengths and weaknesses. And in an increasingly complex medical setting, trusted collaboration and complementarity is crucial. The care and treatment of addicted patients is a great example of why healthcare collaboration -- whether supported by Hybrid Store-and-Forward telemedicine or through another means -- is so important.
- Chronic diseases need special treatment.
Addiction, like Diabetes, is a chronic disease. And patients suffering from chronic diseases need true care coordination, long-term collaboration within an integrated care team, and a truly team approach to their care. Addicted patients are no different, and we must find ways -- together -- of treating them as effectively as any other patient.
- There must be space for ambiguity.
As the New York Times article says, “although medical training typically urges students to come up with absolute answers, treating these patients often means getting comfortable with ambiguity.” Addiction is a delicate, nuanced challenge that requires providers to be able to handle ambiguity at an emotional and an intellectual level. That said, out tools must also be able to support and handle ambiguity. Rather than a text message which demands a succinct answer, telemedicine-supported medical collaboration allows more space for ambiguity because there is more space for nuanced conversations. Photos, videos, complex conversations, and multidisciplinary teams are all components of supporting complex care for complex cases.
We know that many of you are "on the frontlines" of caring for patients with addiction every day. And we certainly hope that you're able to find the tools you need to evolve as a healthcare provider within that -- teaching, learning, and caring for patients.
To learn more about Hybrid Store-and-Forward® telemedicine, download our white paper for free: