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Archive June 2018 XIX, No. 6

Patient Education Is Key to Reducing Opioids

When patients are involved in their recovery, they need less pain medication.

JoEllen McBride

JoEllen McBride, PhD


RIGHT EXPECTATIONS The main goal with patient education is to set the right expectations ahead of time, which helps patients recover faster and with less opioids.

Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) programs are all the rage now. Facilities are finding that not only do these multimodal perioperative care pathways increase patient satisfaction and get them on the mend faster, but they could also help curb the opioid crisis.

UVA Health System
The UVA Health System's ERAS program is available at

Over the last 5 years, multiple unique ERAS programs have been implemented at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville for different surgical procedures. "From the literature and evidence, we knew that there were lots of options outside of opioids that manage pain just as well or better," says Bethany Sarosiek, RN, MSN, MPH, CNL, the program's coordinator. "But enhancing patient care was always the main goal of implementing our ERAS programs."

"Our initial reason for trying to reduce opioid use was the side effects such as nausea, constipation and sleepiness," adds Linda Martin, MD, the lead surgeon for the thoracic program at UVA. "Then, as we started rolling out our programs, we became more aware of the epidemic." So, not only are patients benefiting from reduced side effects, but their communities benefit from less opioids being in circulation.

Counseling the patient

One of the 5 tenants of ERAS is involving the patient in her own care, and Ms. Sarosiek would argue it's the most important one. "Multimodal pain management is also important but it's not the-end-all-be-all," she says. "You can do everything right — limit opioids and use non-opioid pain medications — and all the patient will want to do after surgery is sit in bed, because that's what they think they are supposed to do. Educating patients makes them motivated to get out of bed earlier, which helps them recover faster. That's our goal with pre-operative patient education — to set the right expectations ahead of time."

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