A Program To Teach Safer Opioid Prescription Practices

By Preston Banas ‘24

In the Fall of 2020, the University of Vermont (UVM) Larner College of Medicine was awarded the Opioid Education Challenge Grant from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to address challenges that medical residents and faculty face while managing patient pain with opioids. The Emergent Media Center (EMC) partnered with UVM to develop a prototype of an online learning module that introduces medical residents to a patient case study in which they must make interactive decisions about how to manage the patient’s pain effectively and safely. This project is nearing completion and is made up of a team of Champlain College students, faculty advisors and UVM subject matter experts. 

According to the AAMC, “Academic medical centers were invited to apply through a competitive proposal process. The grantees will develop tools and resources to support educators in their collaborative efforts to increase faculty proficiency in the areas of pain management, opioid use disorder (OUD), substance use disorders (SUD), medication-assisted treatment (MAT), safe prescribing practices, and addressing stigma.” The EMC’s work for this project is centered on producing short (approximately 10-15 minutes) “gamified elements,” as part of a 45-minute interactive online training module that provides balanced instruction to medical staff in administering pain management and safe opioid practices. UVM provided a module storyboard of the overall user experience and all training content to inform EMC’s user experience (UX) design and development in the Articulate Storyline platform. Eventually UVM will integrate this Storyline learning module with their campus Learning Management System (LMS) and administer it to medical residents.

After being awarded the AAMC Opioid Education Challenge Grant, a team of UVM medical faculty led by Dr. Stephen Berns approached the EMC about a vision for an engaging learning module for medical residents and faculty to safely practice pain management. Dr. Berns’s team developed the educational content to learn about how bias and discrimination can cloud a physician’s mind when treating an opioid dependent patient who has a substance use disorder.  Doctors need to learn that having an open mind and caring empathetically about each and every one of their patients is how their patients will grow and become independent from opioid use. According to the Vermont Department of Health, in April of 2021, there are 15-20 thousand people in treatment for opioid-related addictions in Vermont. 

A team of EMC students, supported by Adam Walker, Sr. Technical Project Manager, are designing the user experience of this learning module based upon patient case study details provided by the subject matter experts on Dr. Berns’s team at UVM. The team has learned about the many factors that medical residents and physicians must weigh when prescribing pain medication. With consultation on interaction design from Champlain College Associate Professor Ken Howell, Tara Khan (CCO Web Design, 2021), the UX/UI Designer for the project, has designed a help screen and user interface (UI) that makes it easier for the target audience to navigate through the module. As the UI Artist, Alex Goodman (Game Art, 2022) set the art style to reflect a professional medical appearance while being conscious of not introducing bias to any of the character art. He provided consistent, polished UI art assets for the project. Implementing the UX/UI design this semester in the Articulate Storyline platform presented a unique challenge and opportunity for the team’s programmers to apply game elements into course development software.  Kazare Joynes (CCO Web Design and Development, 2021) and Michael Bowen (Game Programming, 2023) both effectively built on the work that previous programmers prototyped.

From left to right: Adam Walker (Sr. Technical Project Manager), Grace Tuohey Kay (producer), Michael Bowen (programmer),
Tara Khan (UX/UI interaction designer), Ken Howell (faculty advisor), Kazare Joynes (programmer)

The UVM Opioid Awareness Team is collaborating via Zoom to continue the development of this program. 

Usability and focus testing was conducted in late April with one of the medical residents who represents the primary target audience for this module. The test resulted in some UX iteration moving forward with the project. Art assets and UI graphics have been developed to convey a professional sense of ease and calm to support the user in making difficult pain management choices within the module. 

This project has the potential to bring real change, insight and hope for the medical community and patients suffering with opioid use disorder. The EMC is gratified to take on this project because it has a meaningful purpose that will hopefully change the way doctors-in-training and physicians help opioid-dependent patients. The EMC is excited to see this prototype come to fruition and for UVM to hopefully receive funding for full development. 

The collaboration between Dr. Stephen Berns and his team at UVM and the Emergent Media Center at Champlain College demonstrates how ideas, even if they seem like a big task, can be accomplished when people have the resources and perseverance to help other people. This program has the potential to be applicable throughout the U.S. and the world if it turns out to be a successful program for doctors and physicians in the UVM Medical Network. 

** Important note: UVM acknowledges that EMC is not a healthcare provider and does not have expertise in medical services or training and that EMC is relying on UVM for any and all exercise of professional judgment with respect to the content and presentation of this medical training online module.**