In an effort to minimize the use of narcotics after and during surgery, Intermountain Healthcare is the first health system in Utah to establish an opioid-free surgery program for patients seeking alternative pain control methods.

Intermountain surgeons and anesthesiologists developed protocols for the opioid-free surgical approach that will now be offered at Intermountain hospitals in Utah and Idaho for patients requesting the service.

The new program was tested for three months as part of a pilot project, in which physicians used non-addictive and less-addictive pain management alternatives for surgical patients looking for alternative pain control. The feedback from patients has been very positive.

“We’ve already used the new protocols for many procedures, from cranial surgeries, hernia repairs, and hysterectomies to joint replacements,” said Nathan Richards, MD, senior medical director for the Intermountain Healthcare surgical specialties clinical program. “It’s important to know that this is an option for our patients. Patients who’ve opted for the non-narcotic approach in our pilot have been very pleased with the results, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”

During the pilot, Intermountain physicians used the new protocols in more than 250 surgeries. Patients reported overall lower pain levels. Other benefits included a reduction in the average length of hospital stays, a reduction in post-surgical complications, and a lower potential risk of opioid addiction.

Intermountain has made the reduction and appropriate use of opioids after surgery a top priority. In the past two years, Intermountain physicians have helped reduced the number of opioid tablets prescribed to patients with acute medical conditions by almost seven million, while increasing the number of alternative opioid-free pain control alternatives. Opioid-free surgeries are an extension of those efforts.

Will Shakespeare, MD, Intermountain’s medical director of surgical operations and director of anesthesiology, said research indicates pain prevention measures before surgery can also diminish the need for opioids and narcotic pain medications.

“If we can prevent the initial pain of surgery from progressing, then patients can have less pain overall,” he said.

Read more about the program here.