Study Finds Telehealth Benefits Veterans Opioid Addiction

A study issued in the American Journal of Psychiatry has discovered that audio and video-based telehealth has helped prevent VA patients from discontinuing their treatment for opioid use disorder. Researchers at the University of Michigan and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System initially conducted the study to examine various methods to provide access to opioid use disorder treatment among veterans. However, in conducting the study, the researchers identified several benefits to telehealth use, such as increased access to buprenorphine. 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused an extensive adoption of telehealth services as an alternative to traditional care. Concerns were raised by patients and providers regarding whether telehealth is a viable alternative, particularly for patients struggling with opiod addiction who may encounter challenges to acquiring medication. To investigate these concerns, the University of Michigan launched a study evaluating access to buprenorphine treatment for opioid use in the Veteran Health Administration in the initial year of the pandemic and the year prior. 

The researchers discovered that telehealth services have been just as successful in administering opioid use disorder treatment resources to veterans as in-person services. Between March 2019 to February 2021, the amount of patients receiving buprenorphine increased by 1,924 patients. According to the study, approximately half of all telehealth visits were audio-only. A third of visits involved video and approximately a fifth were in-person. The researchers contend that accessibility and convenience are the primary factors contributing to audio telehealth’s success. Results also demonstrated that in February 2021, 14 percent more veterans were receiving medication treatment than in March 2021. In the same period, the total number of veterans undergoing any kind of addiction treatment decreased by 6 percent. 

The industry-wide implementation of telehealth occurred as a result of the pandemic.However, as the final restrictions are eased, policymakers will have to decide whether the healthcare’s extensive adoption of telehealth should remain in place. Studies such as this one will help inform policymakers on the many benefits to telehealth services. 

While policymakers consider telehealth’s future, the lead author of the study, Allison Lin, argues that more research is required to comprehend patient and clinician’s experiences and preferences in order to evaluate the quality of telehealth-delivered treatment. “The goal is to determine what high-quality care looks like, both via telehealth and in-person, to inform standards for the field, but that will take time,”