'Groundbreaking' pilot project at Thunder Bay hospital aims to curb opioid prescription rates

A northwestern Ontario hospital is employing a new tool, which aims to address high rates of opioid addiction by stemming the rate of prescription.

Digital resources will give doctors quick access to recommended treatments, pain management alternatives

An aerial view of the hospital in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre)

A northwestern Ontario hospital is employing a new tool, which aims to address high rates of opioid addiction by stemming the rate of prescription. 

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre — which serves a city grappling with overdose rates significantly higher than the provincial average — will be the first hospital in Ontario to make use of new software to guide doctors as they make decisions about pain management. 

"This is groundbreaking," said Dr. Gordon Porter, chief of staff at the hospital, of the pilot project, which the provincial government is supporting.  

Dr. Gordon Porter is the chief of staff at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. (Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre)

"What we have developed is an attempt to try and begin a process of looking at the opioid problems in a bigger context, from a more system-wide context."

The software works by allowing doctors to access standardized "digital order sets," which contain recommendations for treatments and care for various procedures. 

Pain management options, alternatives

The information guides physicians as they make decisions for individual patients who have undergone surgery.

It will also offer "a full breadth of options" for pain management, and remind doctors of alternatives to some of the most problematic medications, said Sachin Aggarwal, the CEO of Think Research, which designed the software.

"So you're trying to make sure that clinicians are first considering each of the less strong, less addictive methods of pain management, before you go to something that might be stronger like opioids or some of the stronger opioids that are  available on the market."   

Best practices in healthcare are constantly changing, said Sachin Aggarwal, the CEO of Think Reseach, which is why doctors need easy access to the latest information. (ThinkResearch)

Alternatives to opioids might include regional anaesthetic nerve blockers for extremity surgeries, "and various combinations of more conventional medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication," Porter said. 

A team at the Thunder Bay hospital will test the order sets over the next six months, after which the tool can be customized for use in other Ontario hospitals. 

The project is viewed as a priority by leaders at the hospital, said Porter, where it's acknowledged that the problems related to patients suffering from addiction are "immense."

"I think that we could look at our addicted patients and if they have opioid addictions, look at a different way of caring for them. This is just one step in that direction."