Talk to the screen –
Oct. 12, 2020 – Telemedicine has long been seen as a potential remedy, but pre-pandemic adoption rates were low among addiction treatment providers, according to studies by Lori Uscher-Pines, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, and Haiden Huskamp, a health economist at Harvard Medical School, who, along with their colleagues, are researching telemedicine care delivery for substance use disorder treatment. Since March, they have watched a treatment paradigm historically centered on strict in-person monitoring and layers of regulation quickly transform into one that relies heavily on virtual care.
“Everything has changed since COVID-19,” says Uscher-Pines. “The regulatory barriers, patient readiness barriers, all of those things are different now… Our research shows that only about 17% of licensed treatment facilities had any telemedicine capabilities prior to the pandemic. What we’re seeing now, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is an explosion of telemedicine use.”
Virtual 12-step program meetings, online psychotherapy, and private companies offering remote medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to opioid use disorder sufferers have become the norm since the pandemic began. Early research suggests that MAT prescribers transitioned easily to telemedicine with established patients but have been hesitant to take on new ones.
The process of initiating MAT, usually with methadone or buprenorphine, is subject to specific federal and state regulations. Many of these and other regulations have been loosened to facilitate increased access to treatment via telemedicine during the pandemic, but the regulatory environment remains complex.
The following federal policy changes, detailed in a recent study by the nonprofit Center for Connected Health Policy, are in place at least for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic and have opened up options for telemedicine-delivered addiction treatment for patients with access to a computer or telephone: