Bassett Medical Center and A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital are among 18 upstate New York hospitals and health centers collaborating with each other and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to reduce the number of unnecessary opioid pill prescriptions after certain surgical procedures.

“The idea was for the surgeons and Excellus BCBS to develop some baseline data on those surgeries, and for the surgeons to set goals that move discharge prescriptions to the agreed-upon best practice levels over time,” said LouAnne Giangreco, vice president and chief medical officer for health care improvement at Excellus BCBS in a media release by Excellus BCBS.

The initiative began in 2018. Excellus BCBS periodically reviews data it collects for the surgeons so they can analyze and share their experiences with each other, according to the release. Surgeons from the 18 hospitals reviewed best practices and reached a consensus on the appropriate opioid levels to prescribe for patients who have undergone any of 21 surgical procedures.

These procedures, which include total knee replacement, total hip replacement, breast reduction, total abdominal hysterectomy and rotator cuff repair, were chosen because they're common surgeries, Nicholas Hellenthal, chief of surgery at Bassett, told The Daily Star on Tuesday.

"The goal here is to reduce the number of pills we're putting out into the community, period," he said. 

Bassett Medical Center has seen an almost 50% reduction in narcotic pills prescribed for the 17 surgeries in the first year the hospital has been in the program, Hellenthal said. Alternatives to opioids as pain relief include anesthesia nerve blocks, intravenous Tylenol, oral anti-inflammatories and Gabapentin, he said. 

According to the state's quarterly opioid report by the state Department of Health, from 2017-2018 there were 17 deaths involving overdosing on opioid pain relievers in Otsego County, five in Chenango County, 13 in Delaware County and three in Schoharie County.

Hellenthal said he thinks this project is one most physicians in upstate New York can relate to because of how opioid addiction affects both this region and the country. Working with the collaborative has also been beneficial in terms of developing best practices and learning from other institutions' successes and failures, he said.

"This project for me has really highlighted a group effort," Hellenthal said. "This one everyone really feels tied to in some way shape or form, and I think it's really enhanced, or matured, our experiences as a collaborative."

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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