More than 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder, and this growing number is affecting the efficient functioning of emergency departments.

Emergency departments can learn to use smart tools to manage some of their most difficult patient-flow problems.

In the nationwide opioid epidemic, America’s emergency departments are at ground zero. Addiction and a lack of mental health and rehabilitation resources create an unfortunate repeating loop of emergency treatment.

The population at risk for opioid addiction and its associated health issues tends to consume a sizable proportion of emergency resources. Complex social problems and the need for placement can make visits long. How can emergency departments (EDs) successfully manage this patient population while freeing up beds to treat other emergency patients?

Certainly, the root of this difficult issue is the prevalence of opiates themselves. The rates of opioid use and addiction are associated with a complex set of factors including:

  • Age
  • Income
  • Education level
  • Ethnicity
  • Location (rural versus metro areas)

Statewide prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) represent a significant effort to mitigate the impacts of drug use over time, but teletriage and telemedicine — backed by emergency medicine performance analytics — are two immediate ways that technology tools can be put to effective use in managing today’s challenges in the ED.


Teletriage can be used in several ways to manage the flow of patients into the ED:

  • Patients can use an app-based tool to enter symptoms and receive guidance on the level of treatment needed and next steps.
  • Patients can connect to a provider from home and receive advice on whether to visit an ED.
  • Patients can be assessed as they enter an ED using a kiosk or video interaction with a provider, and placed based on acuity, a strategy that can help shorten ED wait times.

It might be difficult to imagine how these tools can be used with patients dealing with opiate addiction. The technology can be used out in the community, in settings like home health, homeless shelters, and high-traffic areas, providing a direct link to an ED to help decide if or when a patient needs to be seen.


Approximately 21 million Americans have a substance use disorder, whether related to alcohol, opioids, or some other drug. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, that number has grown. There is a significant gap between that number and the number of patients who are treated each year. One reason for the gap is the shortage of trained substance abuse treatment providers, especially in rural areas.

Emergency physicians trained in providing substance abuse treatment can now use telemedicine for remote assessment and treatment recommendations, improving patient throughput and significantly cutting wait times. It’s a smart way to manage capacity and provide faster, better care.

The Role of Data Analytics in Deploying New Technologies

Technology can be useful in a variety of applications — including the fight against opioid abuse — but for it to be effective, it must be backed up with data. d2i can help your ED understand when and how to deploy new technologies like teletriage and telemedicine, and monitor how they affect your team’s productivity, patient experience, and outcomes. Contact our team to learn more about our suite of solutions and how we can help improve your quality initiatives.