Cover: Stakeholder Perspectives on a Telemedicine Referral and Coordination Model to Expand Medication Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in Rural Primary Care Clinics

Stakeholder Perspectives on a Telemedicine Referral and Coordination Model to Expand Medication Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in Rural Primary Care Clinics

Published in: Journal of Substance Use and Addiction Treatment, Volume 156 (January 2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.josat.2023.209194

Posted on rand.org May 2, 2024

by Allison J. Ober, Alex R. Dopp, Chunqing Lin, Megan E. Curtis, Stacy Calhoun, Sherry Larkins, Megan Black, Maria Hanano, Katie P. Osterhage, Laura-Mae Baldwin, et al.

Introduction

Opioid overdose deaths are increasing rapidly in the United States. Medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) are effective and can be delivered in primary care, but uptake has been limited in rural communities. Referral to and coordination with an external telemedicine (TM) vendor by rural primary care clinics for MOUD (TM-MOUD) may increase MOUD access for rural patients, but we know little about perspectives on this model among key stakeholders. As part of a TM-MOUD feasibility study, we explored TM-MOUD acceptability and feasibility among personnel and patients from seven rural primary care clinics and a TM-MOUD vendor.

Methods

We conducted virtual interviews or focus groups with clinic administrators (n = 7 interviews), clinic primary care and behavioral health providers (8 groups, n = 30), other clinic staff (9 groups, n = 37), patients receiving MOUD (n = 16 interviews), TM-MOUD vendor staff (n = 4 interviews), and vendor-affiliated behavioral health and prescribing providers (n = 17 interviews). We asked about experiences with and acceptability of MOUD (primarily buprenorphine) and telemedicine (TM) and a TM-MOUD referral and coordination model. We conducted content analysis to identify themes and participants quantitatively rated acceptability of TM-MOUD elements on a 4-item scale.

Results

Perceived benefits of vendor-based TM-MOUD included reduced logistical barriers, more privacy and less stigma, and access to services not available locally (e.g., counseling, pain management). Barriers included lack of internet or poor connectivity in patients' homes, limited communication and trust between TM-MOUD and clinic providers, and questions about the value to the clinic of TM-MOUD referral to external vendor. Acceptability ratings for TM-MOUD were generally high; they were lowest among frontline staff.

Conclusions

Rural primary care clinic personnel, TM-MOUD vendor personnel, and patients generally perceived referral from primary care to a TM-MOUD vendor to hold potential for increasing access to MOUD in rural communities. Increasing TM-MOUD uptake requires buy-in and understanding among staff of the TM-MOUD workflow, TM services offered, requirements for patients, advantages over clinic-based or TM services from clinic providers, and identification of appropriate patients. Poverty, along with patient hesitation to initiate treatment, creates substantial barriers to MOUD treatment generally; insufficient internet availability creates a substantial barrier to TM-MOUD.

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