How Telemedicine and ePrescribing Have Impacted the Treatment of Those with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).
Telehealth has significantly impacted how individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) obtain medical treatment. In many cases, digital healthcare has made it easier for individuals with OUD to access timely medical care and treatment. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an interim rule in April 2020 allowing healthcare providers to electronically prescribe controlled substances (EPCS) via telemedicine without conducting an in-person medical evaluation. This policy change was made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it difficult for many individuals to access healthcare services in person.
With the ability to meet virtually and electronically prescribe Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), more patients have been able to receive treatment. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) studied groups before and after the 2020 Covid Pandemic finding that 69% of those sought telehealth services during or after the pandemic, with 20% receiving care for OUD. This showed a significant increase from the pre-pandemic group, which showed less than 3% received any telehealth service, with less than 1% utilizing telehealth for OUD.
Digital Healthcare: Removing Barriers to Treatment
One significant benefit of digital healthcare is that it can remove many of the barriers to treatment that those with OUD face. Many individuals struggling with OUD live in rural or underserved areas where few healthcare providers specialize in addiction treatment. In 2018, 40% of US counties did not have a single provider who could prescribe buprenorphine, a MOUD, for OUD. Telemedicine can connect individuals with OUD to healthcare providers who are geographically out of reach, making accessing care easier.
The use of telemedicine in the treatment of OUD has led to faster access to medication-assisted treatment. Patients can connect with providers who are able to electronically prescribe the necessary medication for their wellness journey
, in a more reachable manner. Patients can attend virtual appointments from their homes, eliminating the stresses of transportation, childcare arrangements, or asking for time off work.
Additionally, healthcare providers authorized to prescribe MOUDs can conduct virtual evaluations and ePrescribe the medication directly to a patient’s local pharmacy, further reducing wait times for treatment. This can be particularly beneficial for patients who are struggling with opioid addiction and need timely medical interventions. The longer a patient must wait for treatment, the greater the risk of adverse health consequences. With the combination of these factors, telemedicine can help to improve health outcomes and assist those with OUD.
Overall, digital healthcare and telemedicine’s ability to ePrescribe controlled substances has positively impacted how individuals with OUD obtain medical treatment. By removing barriers to care, treatment is more convenient and accessible for those who need it most. This has the potential to improve health outcomes and reduce the negative consequences associated with opioid addiction.
A Temporary Extension of COVID-19 Telemedicine Flexibilities for Prescription of Controlled Medications
On May 3rd, 2023, ahead of the expiration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), the DEA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued the “Temporary Extension of COVID-19 Telemedicine Flexibilities for Prescription of Controlled Medications” – a temporary rule that extends telemedicine flexibilities adopted during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
This will take effect on May 11, 2023, and extends the full set of telemedicine flexibilities adopted during the COVID-19 public health emergency for six months – through November 11, 2023. For any practitioner-patient telemedicine relationships that have been or will be established up to November 11, 2023, the full set of telemedicine flexibilities regarding EPCS established during the COVID-19 PHE will be extended for one year – through November 11, 2024.
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