A New Way to Treat Chemical Dependency

Dr. Joe Cannavo
Addiction Psychiatrist

Dr. Joe Cannavo, an addiction psychiatrist, has taken on several leadership roles since he joined Colorado Permanente Medical Group in 2013. Though he was never driven by power or accolades, he has given his time and talent as the regional service chief of Addiction Treatment Services and as the divisional value advisor of Specialty Psychiatry.

“I like the opportunity to be clinically creative, and serving as a leader gives me the chance to develop clinical strategies and approaches to improve our patients’ care,” says Dr. Cannavo. “Even though Kaiser Permanente is a large care delivery system, I’ve found it to be a system where you can be innovative and get things done. It’s helpful to have the support of IT, analytics and project managers to develop and implement an idea.”

Dr. Cannavo has played an instrumental role in launching the Chemical Dependency Rapid Start Clinic. This addiction treatment program was piloted at Kaiser Permanente’s Highline Behavioral Health Center beginning in July 2016 and launched at the Skyline Medical Offices in January 2017.   

“There are two things that truly differentiate our Rapid Start Clinic’s approach from other treatment programs. First, we don’t just wait for patients to say they need treatment for addiction. Our primary care providers may identify that need and refer them to us. We also aim to streamline care in an integrated fashion, so the onus is not on our patients to navigate care from providers in different disciplines. We handle the scheduling for them, so they can focus on healing.”

This rapid initiation of chemical dependency treatment is important because patients may have a limited window of motivation to seek treatment. As soon as the Chemical Dependency medical team reviews the patient’s case and determines that their needs fall within the program’s scope, they schedule same-day or next-day treatment for the Kaiser Permanente member.

“Rather than having patients seek treatment in a sequential fashion from different disciplines, we coordinate their care similarly to an urgent care setting. We have providers from the appropriate disciplines gather together to identify and discuss the patient’s needs, and then proceed with intervention quickly. We are equipped to evaluate the patient and initiate a multidimensional treatment plan immediately.”

The plan may include starting detox, opioid maintenance or anti-craving medications, as well as counseling groups and other non-pharmacological, non-medical aspects of care. If there are additional psychiatric dimensions in play, such as for an adolescent patient, the Chemical Dependency team will connect with the appropriate resources for follow-up care.

This integrated approach surrounds the patient with support and provides them with a clear picture of their next steps to recovery. Just as the patient no longer feels alone, providers also feel empowered by their team’s collaboration.

“The burden of a patient’s struggles used to land in the lap of the chemical dependency physician. We’ve changed the paradigm so you no longer ask yourself, ‘What am I going to do?’ Instead, it’s ‘What are we going to do?’ This allows us to make clinical decisions more efficiently and more comfortably.”

Dr. Cannavo is enthusiastic about the momentum of the Chemical Dependency Rapid Start Clinic and the improved access to treatment that this program has delivered thus far. To learn more about his experience at CPMG, read part two of his story.

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