The Department of Veterans Affairs is the first healthcare system in the country to post information on its opioid-prescribing rates, including dispensing rates for each VA facility displayed on an interactive map that shows data over a five-year period.

The agency contends that by publicly releasing this data it will “facilitate the sharing of best practices in pain management and opioid prescribing among doctors and medical center directors.”

VA’s Digital Media Engagement team led the effort to develop the interactive map using CARTO, a cloud-based geographic information system and web mapping tool. Working with the agency’s Office of Information Technology, the map and data are hosted on the VA open data portal.

Also See: AMA enhances its interactive, geospatial mapping tool

According to VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, posting information publicly on opioids dispensed from the VA’s pharmacies is a critical component of the agency’s efforts at transparency and to prescribe these pain medications appropriately and safely.

“Many veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system suffer from high rates of chronic pain, and the prescribing of opioids may be necessary medically,” said Shulkin in a statement. “And while VA offers other pain management options to reduce the need for opioids, it is important that we are transparent on how we prescribe opioids, so veterans and the public can see what we are doing in our facilities and the progress we have made over time.”

The VA interactive map shows data over a five-year period (2012 to 2017). Overall, 99 percent of the VA’s facilities have decreased opioid-prescribing rates since 2012, with a 41 percent drop in rates across the agency between 2012 and 2017.

In addition, regional comparison categories were generated using publicly available data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which reports opioid prescribing rates by state calculated by dividing the number of Medicare Part D claims for opioid medications by the total number of prescription claims.

Nonetheless, the VA also points out that “it is important to note that because the needs and conditions of veterans may be different at each facility, the rates of the use of opioids may also be different for that reason, and cannot be compared directly.”

According to the agency, the prescribing rate information will be updated semi-annually—January 15 and July 15 of each year.

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