1. Telehealth visits may be beneficial to patients with opioid use disorders, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Certain patients, such as older adults, may be more likely to use telephone visits, while others, such as those with higher education, are more likely to use video visits.

Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly difficult for those battling addiction. From lack of support groups to difficulty obtaining healthcare, many of these individuals have struggled. In recognition of this issue, restrictions on the use of telemedicine to treat individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD), were relaxed. The potential benefits of telemedicine include increased access to care and improved quality of interactions. The purpose of this study was to identify patient characteristics who used phone versus video-based telehealth care.

This study used data from the Respectful Equitable Access to Compassionate Healthcare (REACH) Medical group, which is a harm-reduction practice located in Ithaca, New York, United States. REACH implemented telemedicine via both phone and video in March 2020. Patients diagnosed with OUD who visited REACH Medical between March-December 2020 were included (N=795 patients, 4557 telemedicine visits).  Sociodemographic information, quality of life, infectious disease history, substance use history, and questions pertaining to stigma were collected.

The results show that most encounters completed by patients (79.62%) were video visits. Notably, elder patients and patients who were less educated (who also experience a digital divide disproportionately) were more likely to rely on a telephone. Other factors included unstable housing, mobility issues, and unemployment. Furthermore, there were no differences between follow-up rates between the 2 groups. However, this study was limited in that data was collected from a single clinic from a sample of predominantly young, white individuals. Nonetheless, this study suggests that both video and telephone telehealth visits may be helpful in access treatment for OUD, though patient characteristics of each group may slightly differ.

Click to read the study in Journal of Addiction Medicine

Image: PD 

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