Telehealth-based medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD) has been shown to support patient retention in treatment, with higher rates than those for in-person care, according to a recent study by Ophelia Health. The study assessed 1,378 patients who received telehealth-enabled OUD treatment and found that retention levels exceeded those of previous studies focusing on in-person treatment for OUD. The findings suggest that telehealth may help address barriers to accessing OUD treatment, making it more accessible and effective for patients who need it most.
Telehealth has been shown to support patient retention in opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. The study assessed the retention rates of 1,378 patients who received telehealth-enabled OUD treatment between April 2021 and September 2022. Of these patients, 21.2 percent resided in rural areas, and 78.8 percent lived in urban areas. Additionally, 58.1 percent were from Pennsylvania, 41.9 percent were from New York, 58.8 percent were male, and their mean age was 35.6.
The study found that the overall 180-day treatment retention rate was 56.4 percent, which fell to 48.3 percent among those studied for the full 365 days. However, retention rates were consistent across patients of different races and residency locations. Researchers also noted that retention levels exceeded those of previous studies focusing on in-person treatment for OUD.
Arthur Robin Williams, MD, the chief medical officer of Ophelia Health, the digital provider of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) that conducted the study, emphasized the importance of telehealth-based MAT for OUD treatment, particularly for individuals who face barriers to accessing care. “Living in a healthcare desert, lacking financial resources, or grappling with stigma should not be barriers to getting life-saving treatment for opioid use disorder,” he said in a press release. “These study findings are another step forward in proving what we already know: telehealth-based medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder is highly effective in reducing overdoses and preventing relapse.”
Previous studies have also demonstrated the benefits of using telehealth for OUD treatment. For instance, the CareConnect initiative from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania employed telehealth to help OUD patients get access to care. Launched in November 2021, CareConnect allowed Penn Medicine researchers to assess and prescribe buprenorphine to OUD patients virtually. After examining the period between the program’s inception and September 2022, researchers found that 89 percent of participants filled their first buprenorphine prescription, and 55 percent continued a preexisting prescription for the medication at least 30 days following engagement.
Despite the evidence supporting the use of telehealth for OUD treatment, barriers to accessing care remain. Transportation, confidentiality concerns, and costs are among the factors that can prevent patients from obtaining treatment. However, telehealth may help address these hurdles, making OUD treatment more accessible and effective for those who need it most.