Woman working in medical facility

The startling headlines and statistics about prescription opioid abuse in the United States have become all too common: according to the Pew Research Center, opioid abuse and overdoses cost the national economy more than $500 billion annually.1 A 2017 survey by the National Safety Council found that 7 in 10 businesses report negative outcomes, such as lost productivity and missed work, due to prescription opioid abuse.2 And, the Centers for Disease Control reports that overdose deaths related to prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than 1999.3

To combat the dramatic rise in prescription opioid abuse and overdoses, states are regulating opioid prescriptions and dispensing through the use of prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) systems. In fact, 49 states have laws mandating a PDMP, with 40 states requiring by law that healthcare professionals query a PDMP database before prescribing an opioid.

We spoke with Doug Rogers, a Senior Vice President with Microsoft ISV partner, NIC Inc. about their new solution RxGov – how it is transforming this industry and utilizes the best from the Azure platform. This solution was selected in January 2019 as the secure technology platform to collect information about controlled substances dispensed in the state of Maryland.


Q: Tell us about NIC’s role in combatting the prescription opioid epidemic.

A: For several years, state governments have had basic, compliance-driven PDMP systems in place. However, to keep pace with combatting the opioid epidemic, these systems now need to provide a broader array of services to several stakeholder groups beyond doctors and pharmacists. NIC developed its first PDMP systems in 2011 for the state of Montana, and our flagship system was built for the state of Wisconsin in 2017. Recently, NIC acquired technology assets in 2018 to enhance our PDMP offering, RxGov. This solution, powered by the Azure cloud, is a powerful new public health tool that will support more informed decisions by healthcare professionals.


Q: What is one of the main benefits RxGov offers that current providers do not?

A: In a market previously dominated by a single provider, one of the key benefits RxGov delivers is more transparent data. RxGov offers complete data traceability, with no data loss. Meaning, special alerts notify a healthcare provider or pharmacist if a particular field of data has an error, or data is missing. This prevents incorrect data entry of patient prescriptions ending up in a “black box.”


Q: With more and more news about artificial intelligence and machine learning in our society, are those technologies applicable to PDMP systems?

A: Absolutely. Healthcare is no exception. RxGov uses a unique patient-matching algorithm driven by machine learning to match nicknames, maiden names, former addresses, etc. into a single patient record. This is a key component to prevent doctor shopping by those addicted to prescription opioids.  We utilized Microsoft Azure Machine Learning to drive this capability, enabling access to powerful cloud-based AI functionality.


Q: Who are the primary users of PDMP systems and how do they help communities solve this crisis?

A: When communities have access to transparent data, they need to generate reports easily for a variety of needs. RxGov has extensive data visualization capabilities to help healthcare providers compare their prescribing habits to other professionals in their specialty and/or region; allows law enforcement to track hot beds of prescription opioid activity in a particular community; and researchers and public health officials can identify which prescription opioids are posing the greatest threat in their area.


Q: Tell me more about how RxGov will be used to provide better patient outcomes.

A: In the case of an overdose, seconds can mean the difference between life and death. In these situations, emergency room doctors need information immediately. RxGov provides this immediacy with real-time alerts that empower clinicians with information about doctor shopping or the fulfillment of prescriptions. And, RxGov integrates securely and seamlessly with electronic health records and health information exchanges, meeting privacy and security mandates. From the emergency room example where seconds make a big difference, to the convenience of providing care during a routine physician office visit, RxGov offers healthcare providers the integration that is important in providing the very best patient outcomes.


Q: What else should readers know about NIC’s RxGov solution?

A: While the opioid epidemic is a tough topic, it is an important one. This crisis is top of mind for our President, Congress, and Governors. A PDMP system like RxGov is an important step in combatting the epidemic. Our RxGov PDMP platform is available today. Not only does this new solution provide choice and enhanced functionality, but the launch followed an important federal announcement. On June 18, 2018, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced a 90/10 federal match program, allowing states to enhance or replace an existing system while only paying for 10 percent of the costs, with the federal government through CMS covering the remaining 90 percent. And in October 2018, the SUPPORT Act was signed into law by President Trump, which designates additional funding for PDMPs.


Now is the time for states to evaluate their current PDMP solution. RxGov provides new, more robust functionality and can now be funded affordably with the CMS matching grant.

Learn More:
RxGov’s national rollout continues, with the platform to be showcased at the 2019 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Interoperability Showcase. Learn more about how your state can deploy this solution to help combat the prescription opioid epidemic.

1 Rising, John and Doyle, Sheri, “The Industries Hardest Hit by the Opioid Crisis.” The Pew Charitable Trusts, August 30, 2018, http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/08/30/the-industries-hardest-hit-by-the-opioid-crisis

2 “How the Prescription Drug Crisis is Impacting American Employers,” 2017 study, National Safety Council, https://www.nsc.org/Portals/0/Documents/NewsDocuments/2017/Media-Briefing-National-Employer-Drug-Survey-Results.pdf

3 General Information on prescription opioids, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/prescribing.html