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What Can Analytics Do to Stop Drug Diversion?


A Sentry-funded study suggests hospitals want high-tech solutions for a serious problem.

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Photo: PR Newsfoto/Sentry

If financial and health benefits won’t prod hospitals to take the power of analytics seriously, perhaps the threat of prison or steep fines will.

No, simply being a luddite won’t land anyone behind bars. But a new study suggests healthcare decision makers might think more highly of at least 1 analytics company after the creation of a United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task force targeting drug diversion fraud in hospitals.

Violators, according to reports, can face fines and even prison. Pennsylvania’s Abington Memorial Hospital, for instance, agreed early this year to pay $510,000 to the government for procedural “failures” that “enabled its employee to divert controlled substances for illegal, nonmedical uses,” according to the US Department of Justice.

The study, performed this spring on behalf of the healthcare analytics solutions company Sentry Data Systems, gauged the “most urgent concerns” of its clients, according to an announcement. The healthcare insights firm Porter Research found that 78% of respondents were aware of the DEA task force and the penalties surrounding drug diversion fraud. More than half said that knowledge would change how they thought of Sentry’s analytics, according to the results.

“As evidenced by the response numbers, drug diversion presents a major risk for hospitals today,” Sentry’s CEO, Travis Leonardi, said in a statement.

The analytics executive went on to pitch his company’s ability to combat drug diversion in healthcare institutions. Sentry’s “Comparative Rapid Cycle Analytics” can pinpoint variances in the data, he noted. It details transaction history patterns and areas where hospitals are out of compliance with federal drug diversion rules—and thus at risk.

The Florida-based company has spent 14 years building the technology, it said. More than 10,000 healthcare entities nationwide use its analytics for some task, Sentry said.

Drug diversion is a critical problem for hospitals, as shown time and again by studies and news reports.

In a July 2012 study, Mayo Clinic investigators wrote that the issue “is not uncommon and can result in substantial risk not only to the individual who is diverting the drugs but also to patients, co-workers, and employers.” The document detailed incidents at Mayo Clinic facilities, from a visitor who stole a patient’s time-released fentanyl patch and a nurse who used a secret pocket to steal syringes full of opioids to a radiology technician whose illicit use of fentanyl syringes ultimately infected 5 patients with hepatitis C.

The authors concluded that it is “essential” for all healthcare organizations to install a “robust system” to identify and scrutinize suspected drug diversion. They mentioned databases in the report as well. In 2013, experts from Altegra Health recommended automated medication unit security and similar high-tech controls.

For hospitals, the financial stakes are high. Before the $510,000 fine against the Pennsylvania hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital paid $2.3 for its loose controls over drug diversion. Other institutions have faced similar punishments.

Big data, analytics, and artificial intelligence have shown potential for combating the public health problem of drug abuse. Recent studies, for example, have suggested that algorithms and data miners can crawl social media for insights into drug use trends and discussion and even who’s selling prescription opioids. And, of course, these tools help promote value-based care, precision medicine, and the day-to-day operations of many hospitals.

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