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Oral Health and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic is affecting countless lives and communities across Texas and the country. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that opiods are the cause of more than 130 overdose deaths in the United States each day. The economic cost exceeds $500 billion annually, according to a study from The Council of Economic Advisors.

Prescription painkillers are often necessary and useful for some medical conditions; however, these powerful drugs – such as oxycodone or codeine – come with a high risk of misuse and addiction. This is especially true for teens and young adults, in part because adolescent brains are not fully matured and are therefore more susceptible to the addictive effects of opioids.

One potentially overlooked aspect of the opioid epidemic is the connection to oral health. In fact, oral health professionals write 12 percent of all opioid prescriptions, including 45 percent of opioid prescriptions for adolescents, according to a UnitedHealthcare analysis of claims data.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, an opportunity to recognize the risks for young people – and provide a reminder for parents – about the connection between oral health and opioids.

With that in mind, here is information for people to consider:

Wisdom Teeth: More than 5 million people had their wisdom teeth removed last year, mostly teens and young adults. While the decision to remove wisdom teeth should involve professional advice from a dentist or oral surgeon, patients and parents should also be aware of the risks associated with potential exposure to opioids following this procedure. For many young people, wisdom teeth extraction often represents their first exposure to opioids, and a recent study from Stanford University found that teens can end up in a battle with opioid additional following this procedure.

Limit Supply: Other than in extreme cases, it is important to limit prescriptions for the minimum appropriate dosage and number of days, which the CDC recommends at three days and fewer than 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day. This is because the likelihood for chronic opioid use increases after the third day of use and rises rapidly thereafter, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and misuse or dependence on opioids can lead to addiction to more powerful illicit drugs.

Alternative Pain Medications: If you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid following a dental procedure or another medical event, it is good to ask your health care professional if there are alternatives, including over-the-counter pain relievers such as a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. In many cases, these medications can be equally effective in pain management, without the risk of addiction.   

Proper Disposal: Approximately 70 percent of misused opioid prescriptions were obtained, stolen or purchased from a friend or relative, according to the CDC. That’s why it is important to keep opioids in a safe place – like a locked cabinet – and always properly dispose of unused medications. That can include returning the drugs to your pharmacy, or mixing them with water and an unappealing substance, such as cat litter, and putting in the trash (if simply thrown in the trash, unused prescription drugs can be retrieved and misused).  

 

UnitedHealthcare Expands Navigate4Me to Bring Personalized, Holistic Care to More People

UnitedHealthcare is significantly expanding its Navigate4Me program to bring the benefits of personalized, holistic care to more people enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans.

Navigate4Me offers concierge services from health navigators who support and guide people through the complexities of a fragmented health care system. UnitedHealthcare launched the program in fall 2017 for people enrolled in its Medicare Advantage plans who are facing complex health issues such as diabetes, congestive heart failure or multiple chronic conditions. People who have experienced a sudden health event, such as joint replacement surgery or a new cancer diagnosis, are often also eligible for the program.

Navigate4Me will be newly available to four groups of people: those who are under 65 and qualify for Medicare due to a disability; those who receive post-acute care following a hospitalization and meet other eligibility criteria; those who are newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease; and those who are at risk for social isolation.

UnitedHealthcare grew its team of navigators from a dozen at launch to more than 800 today, supporting approximately 215,000 people. The company plans to double enrollment in 2019 by expanding the population eligible for the program to more than 1 million.

By providing the support of dedicated health navigators, UnitedHealthcare aims to personalize the health experience for these individuals and improve their health and quality of life.

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Virtual Care: Three Things That May Surprise You

Oftentimes scheduling and attending a doctor’s office visit can be challenging. It may involve juggling work and childcare schedules, lengthy travel time and time spent sitting in a crowded waiting room.

It’s no wonder virtual care (also known as remote care, telehealth, telemedicine or online visits) is growing in popularity. Instead of an in-person visit, virtual care uses technology, including tablets, smartphones and personal computers, to connect you with care providers. Some of the obvious advantages are convenience, quick access to care and time savings. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) pointed out that a virtual visit saves 106 minutes on average, compared to an in-person appointment.

Further, virtual visits often can cost as low as $40 or $50 per visit, much less than an urgent care or emergency room visit, and many insurance companies are now covering them.

Virtual care makes sense for a variety of conditions, from treating colds and the flu to rashes, migraines and allergies. A virtual visit can be especially handy during times when it’s otherwise difficult to seek care, such as during a major storm. Even the federal government is beginning to recognize the value of virtual care. In 2017, Congress expanded insurance and Medicare payments for a variety of telehealth programs, enabling more people to access this type of care.

Beyond the convenience and time savings, here are three other features of virtual visits that may surprise you:

  • It can be just as personal – if not more so – than an in-person visit. While you may be concerned about getting advice through a video screen rather than in person, doctors who provide virtual care are well-trained to make these appointments an “all-about-you” experience. They can attend to your concerns without distraction, and examine and treat you for a variety of conditions ranging from sinus problems to pink eye. You receive direct, one-on-one attention and avoid having to sit with other sick people prior to your appointment. 
  • You can show doctors your medications. How often have you arrived at your doctor’s office, only to realize you forgot to bring a list of your current medications and dosages? When you meet with a doctor virtually, you can simply show them, in real time, your vitamins, supplements, medications and any equipment you are using, such as wheelchairs or nebulizers. 
  • Virtual care is popping up in more places. Your local doctor may already offer this service, or may sometime soon, for routine care or to manage a chronic condition, such as diabetes or congestive heart failure. And given the shortage of mental health services in many locations – nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in regions with a shortage of behavioral health providers – virtual care can be a quicker way to receive treatment for a range of conditions, including stress, addiction, depression, loss and grief.

As technology continues to permeate all aspects of our lives, you’ll likely experience a virtual health visit, if you haven’t already. Check with your health plan to see if virtual visits are covered and whether you can register for them in advance. It will make your life easier and help you quickly get you the care you need – all within the comfort of your home.

Image: Stock Photo