Health Center Implementation of Telemedicine for Opioid Use Disorders
A Qualitative Assessment of Adopters and Nonadopters
Published in: Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Volume 115 (August 2020). doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108037
Posted on RAND.org on September 18, 2020
Although use of telemedicine for the treatment of opioid use disorders (Tele-OUD) is growing, there is limited research on how it is actually being deployed in treatment. We explored how health centers across the U.S. are using tele-OUD in treatment as well as reasons for nonadoption.
We used the 2018 SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator database and literature review to create a sample of community mental health centers and federally qualified health centers with telemental health services. From this list of health centers, we ued maximum diversity sampling to identify and recruit health center leaders to participate in semistructured interviews. We used inductive and deductive approaches to develop site summaries.
Twenty-two health centers from 14 different states participated. Of these, 8 offered tele-OUD. Among centers with tele-OUD, medication management was the most common service provided via video. Typically, health centers offered telemedicine visits after an initial, in-person visit with a waivered (prescribing) provider. Some programs only offered counseling via telemedicine. Leading barriers to treatment that tele-OUD program representatives mentioned included regulations on the prescribing of controlled substances, including buprenorphine, and difficulties in sending lab results to distant (prescribing) providers. Nonadopters reported not offering tele-OUD due to regulations in controlled substance prescribing, complexities and regulatory barriers to offering group visits, and the belief that in-person OUD services were meeting patient need.
Tele-OUD is being deployed in a variety of ways. Describing current delivery models can inform strategies to promote and implement tele-OUD to combat the opioid epidemic.