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SAS Analytics helps Virginia tackle opioid addiction

The Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) speeds medical care to citizens in need by analyzing massive amounts of data using SAS Analytics. More and more, that care involves treating opioid addiction.

In November, the State Health Commissioner declared opioid addiction a Virginia public health emergency. Opioid-related deaths in the commonwealth were up nearly 80 percent in 2016 compared to five years ago. Virginia’s Medicaid Addiction and Recovery Treatment Services (ARTS), which facilitates Medicaid reimbursements for a host of addiction services, has become a bulwark in the battle.

DMAS, which administers Virginia’s Medicaid program and oversees ARTS benefits, faces daunting challenges. According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Medicaid beneficiaries are prescribed painkillers at twice the rate of non-Medicaid patients and are at three to six times the risk of prescription painkillers overdose.”

But with data flooding in from across the commonwealth, including emergency department, opioid and heroin abuse data, it is difficult to match patients with the best provider and services. This is particularly burdensome in rural counties, where providers are fewer and scattered.

Using SAS Visual Analytics, DMAS can review fresh provider network data each day and view on a “heat map” any gaps in coverage. Previously, data was updated only every few weeks – too late for someone in crisis.

“Today, we can instantly see which services are available, and where,” said DMAS Director Cindi Jones. “This will help get addiction recovery assistance to the people who need it more quickly.”

Virginia Medicaid recently began covering more community-based addiction recovery services, including medication-assisted opioid treatment and inpatient detoxification, which experts believe is more effective than outpatient or community detox. With help from analytics, DMAS can shepherd more people wrestling with opioid and heroin addiction into those programs and increase positive patient outcomes.

DMAS extracts and disseminates over 1 billion records a year – a number expected to snowball as DMAS transitions to 100 percent managed care. DMAS needed analytics software that could increase and help it quickly process requests from citizens and stakeholders, such as the governor, general assembly, chief medical officer, secretary of health and human services, and others.

DMAS now turns around prior authorizations for services or prescriptions in a single day, a process that previously took 30 days or more.

The secure SAS environment and user authentication functionality also allows DMAS to share sensitive data across the organization, while adhering to HIPAA standards for safeguarding personal health data.

SAS data management and data integration capabilities provide centralized, consistent information. That means DMAS can collect data once, but use it repeatedly with confidence. Complex reports can be automated and generated in significantly less time.

SAS makes data accessible to more than 200 users, who can independently analyze and perform simple queries. Non-programmers can access SAS reports through familiar office software like Excel, allowing experienced SAS users to focus on complex research and statistical analysis.

“The explosion of health data actually presents an opportunity to turn back the tide of opioid addiction,” said Paula Henderson, vice president at SAS US Government. “DMAS’ innovative analytics work sets an example for other states battling this devastating epidemic.”

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