Study Finds Half Of Veterans With OUD Used Audio-only Telehealth To Receive Medication

According to a study published in JAMA Network Open, the majority of opioid use disorder (OUD) patients used telehealth to receive medication, and of those, about 50 percent engaged in telephone-only consultations rather than video. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington in order to provide viable data to policymakers as they determine the future of telehealth use in healthcare. 

The study was based on data on over 17,000 veterans nationwide who had received OUD treatment between March 23, 2020 and March 22, 2021 provided by the Veterans Health Administration. The researchers examined OUD treatment access methods and 90-day retention. The study finds telehealth discrepancies by race, housing status, and age, even though it hypothesizes that telehealth may have assisted new and ongoing patients in continuing their treatments. The results also point to the potential importance of telephone-based care in assisting patients in obtaining medical attention. According to the recent research study, this is particularly true for patient populations who were already significantly less likely to get buprenorphine-based treatment prior to the pandemic. The drug is regarded as the gold standard for treating opioid addiction.

The study found that for addiction treatment, 38 percent of participating veterans had at least one video consultation, while 50 percent had at least one telephone consultations but no video consultations. The remaining 12% had exclusively in-person interactions. The researchers also discovered that patients who had at least one telehealth consultation were more likely to continue their therapy, which is essential for lowering the risk of relapse and overdose. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the continuation of care was higher among new patients who had telehealth consultations than it was among those who had phone visits for buprenorphine treatment only.

There were, however, variations in the patients who received any telehealth, as well as in the proportion of patients who received video consultation as opposed to phone calls only. People who were younger, male, Black, Hispanic, or had particular mental health or substance use disorders, for instance, were less likely to obtain any telehealth services. People who were older, male, Black, or had housing instability were less likely to have any video consultations than solely telephone calls among those who had at least one telehealth consultation.

The researchers concluded that telehealth via phone and video may help to continue a patient’s treatment. The data indicates that it will be crucial to increase patient access to video-based treatment while also supporting them in receiving care regardless of the method they choose.