How ‘Big Data’ can help fight opioid abuse


The opioid crisis has put a spotlight on physician prescribing practices, especially since studies show a quarter of chronic pain patients misuse opioids. One startup in Nashville has become a sort of watchdog for health insurers who spend far more when a patient is abusing opioids.

“It’s billions of dollars in amenable, avoidable health care expenses associated with poor treatment,” said John Donahue, CEO of Axial Healthcare.

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Physicians who seem to be over-prescribing painkillers or working with addicted patients may now get a tap on the shoulder from Axial, which has contracts with big insurers in high opioid abuse states like Tennessee, Alabama, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The company has a trove of claims data on 100 million patients. Sophisticated algorithms identify problem prescribers and even patients at risk of overdose, suicide or having a baby born in withdrawal.

“In fairness to the practitioners, they just do not know what they don’t know,” Donahue said.

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