Population health management in a small health system: Impact of controlled substance stewardship in a patient-centered medical home

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The success of a patient-centered medical home in providing population health management (PHM) services through controlled substance stewardship is described.


In 2013, Penobscot Community Health Care (PCHC), in Bangor, Maine, was fully engulfed in the prescription opioid crisis. At PCHC, patients' opioid doses were startlingly high. Within the organization, measures to ensure that prescriptions were being used as prescribed, and not diverted, were underutilized. PCHC responded to these challenges by developing a comprehensive approach to controlled substance stewardship, defined as a coordinated effort to promote the appropriate use of controlled substances, improve patient outcomes, reduce misuse and abuse, and decrease patient morbidity and mortality attributed to these high-risk medications. Since the establishment of the program, over 1,300 patient reviews have been conducted. During this time, the number of PCHC patients receiving chronic opioids has decreased by 67.2% and continues to drop, with a corresponding 65.6% decrease in the number of patients receiving benzodiazepines. Premature deaths were reviewed to identify associations with opioids prescribed at the time of death, which revealed a decline of 50% between 2013 and 2015. Since program inception, the reviews conducted based on internal quality-improvement reports have been expanded to include patients on combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, high-dose opioids, and carisoprodol.


Systematic approaches addressing areas of critical need in high-risk populations are integral to PHM efforts in small health systems. The pharmacy team can serve a unique role in identifying, developing, and implementing key PHM services. Coupled with strategic community partnerships, successful PHM integration can assist in the financial survival of small health systems.

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