Opioid crisis and telemedicine, tablet with pills

Can Telehealth Help in the Battle Against the Opioid Crisis?

Note that this is the first segment of a 4-part telehealth series. Make sure to also check out: CMS is increasing Telehealth access – but, is the timing right? Could Telehealth reimbursement concerns stall its implementation? Telehealth as a Health System Expansion Strategy

Each day over 130 people die due to opioid overdose in the United States. It is important to note that “while the rate of drug use is lower in rural areas than in urban areas, the fatal overdose rate in rural areas continues to rise. In 2015, the rural overdose death rate has been higher than the urban rate since 2006” and “the Midwestern region saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017”

This increase in rural overdoses is attributed to several factors including exposure rate, how many become addicted and treatment options. Looking at the treatment options available in rural areas, in particular, you see a stark difference in the availability of Medication-assisted Treatment (MAT) treatments which is the optimal course of opioid management and resolution. Unfortunately, “60.1% of rural counties still had no waivered providers in 2016.”

While in general, it is challenging for patients to receive advanced healthcare or specialized care for complex or chronic care, in rural areas it is especially difficult for opioid patients seeking treatment. Even if patients can get to larger city centers to receive the care they need, appointment wait times can be months long, time patients with opioid addiction don’t have to wait. Due to the inadequate access of treatment centers, patients suffer negative consequences.

As when we discussed the current state of initiatives in the panel discussion from the HFMA Florida Spring Conference Annual Meeting in St. Petersburg, FL, it is luckily that the federal government has taken notice, and in 2018, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency. With lawmakers all agreeing that treatment including MAT needed to be more widely available…

Prominent among strategies proposed to ramp-up MAT access is providing it via telemedicine. Telemedicine, or the remote delivery of healthcare using telecommunications technology, has the potential to increase access to MAT medicines and concurrent therapy in underserved, remote rural areas by providing direct-to-patient or specialty consultation services from afar. Although telemedicine to treat patients with OUD (Opioid Use Disorder) has been piloted favorably, scaling up its provision is not as simple as connecting a patient to a provider. Rather, stakeholders must surmount significant regulatory, logistical, and quality hurdles before telemedicine helps to mitigate the opioid epidemic

While seemingly an uphill battle, if telemedicine technology can effectively be utilized to help opioid patients, the outcomes would be huge, especially considering that 47,000 Americans died in 2017 due to opioid overdose. Not to mention the loss in productivity in the workforce and the strain on the foster care system when parents’ addictions prevent them from caring for their children.

Telemedicine might be the new buzzword in healthcare, but its opportunities are enormous when it comes to fighting the opioid crisis. Telemedicine can provide needed services to those who require it most and are currently least likely to receive treatment.

Is your organization looking for ways to implement a telehealth system and have concerns or questions, or have you already implemented telehealth services and are struggling with its success?

Sunlit Cove Healthcare can help your organization with its telehealth expansion strategy and concerns, including navigating reimbursement. Contact us or give us a call to get started.

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Sunlit Cove Healthcare Consultants

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Related: Policy and Procedure Development and Implementation