Addiction Treatment and Telemedicine
By Dr. Jessica Badichek, PharmD
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recently published a document explaining how healthcare providers can use telemedicine as a tool in buprenorphine-based MAT (Medication-Assisted Treatment) for opioid use disorder. This document helps clarify how telemedicine may be used in practice under current DEA regulations. Telemedicine has been available for quite some time but healthcare providers and other stakeholders have been reluctant to use it for prescribing MAT. HHS’ document outlines that the use of telemedicine in prescribing MAT can be leveraged to combat the nation’s opioid crisis and can be made available under current DEA regulations.
What is Telemedicine or Telehealth?
Telemedicine also referred to as Telehealth, allows two-way, real-time, interactive communication between patient and healthcare provider at a distant site. This communication is usually done through a telecommunications platform that is secure and may look similar to applications like FaceTime or Skype. This allows for the patient to be in one location such as a local doctor’s office and the doctor or specialist to be in another location such as a hospital or other office. Telemedicine is a way to reach more patients that may be located in rural areas and don’t have access to specialists or providers that are certified to prescribe MAT medications such as buprenorphine.
How do telemedicine addiction services compare to traditional addiction services?
As discussed above, telemedicine services for addiction treatment have been underutilized in the United States. However, telemedicine services for addiction treatment including MAT, have been utilized and studied in other countries. A study held in Ontario, Canada showed greater retention rates in treatment than patients undergoing traditional in-person treatment (50% telemedicine vs. 39% in-person).1 Staying in treatment is a major barrier to recovery. Therefore, every effort to keep patients in treatment may lead to a better healthcare outcome overall. Although not proven yet, telemedicine services may serve as a helpful tool in providing addiction treatment to more patients and helping to breakdown potential recovery barriers.
Reference: 1. Eibl et al. The effectiveness of telemedicine-delivered opioid agonist therapy in a supervised clinical setting. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017 Jul 1;176:133-138.
Telemedicine & Counseling
Telemedicine not only allows increased access to qualified physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, but also allows access to certified substance abuse counselors, psychologists and clinical social workers that can provide the therapy component of MAT. Therefore, telemedicine can be a helpful tool in providing “whole patient” care.
If you are a healthcare provider, counselor or patient and want to connect to our affiliated telemedicine addiction network, please visit PursueCare.
For more information on Telemedicine & MAT from HHS, please visit here.