These days, every behavioral health provider is leveraging telehealth in one way or another. But just how effective is tele-behavioral health care?
That’s the question a new clinical trial led by UCLA seeks to answer, at least as it relates to a certain type of virtual treatment. Specifically, the newly launched study — which pre-dates the pandemic — aims to determine how effective telehealth is at treating rural opioid use disorder (OUD) patients.
Hometown Health Center (HHC) — a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Maine — and Bright Heart Health — a web-based behavioral health care provider — have teamed up to help UCLA get to the bottom of it.
With two locations in rural Maine, HHC provides medical, dental and behavioral health care services to patients based on what they can afford to pay.
While the provider has a small medication assisted treatment (MAT) program at one of its facilities, it has long been trying to figure out how to make MAT services more accessible to the low-income patients in its rural communities.
When HHC leaders heard UCLA was seeking rural FQHCs for the trial, it seemed like the perfect fit, according to HHC CEO Robin Winslow.
“The biggest barrier for our patients is the transportation piece,” Winslow told Behavioral Health Business. “By having this telehealth component, we can bring the services to the patient. They can come into our office and use the iPad and connect directly with their counselors. They can also do it from home on their own mobile devices. It’s very, very easy, and they also … have contact 24/7.”
HHC applied to be part of the clinical trial late last year. As one of three Maine-based clinics participating, it began serving study patients in early June after completing all the necessary training.
So far, HHC has six patients in the trial, and the goal is to grow that number to 40 by the end of the year.
“Those 40 people will be part of the study through the next five years, but the goal is to see if the telehealth component … is making a difference with the opioid addiction and really helping the patient,” Winslow said.
Patients can get involved in the trial via HHC’s medical side, where they’re evaluated for opioid abuse. If they meet the criteria for the study and are interested in taking part, patients can enter the program the same day.
That’s where Bright Heart Health comes in. The company provides online treatment for opioid addiction to patients in the study.
“They do a complete intake and registration through the Bright Heart Health program, and Bright Heart’s intake team then takes it from there. It’s a multidisciplinary team, and they can have a provider prescribing suboxone or buprenorphine, and patients can also have their counseling sessions and group visits. And again, it’s all telehealth.”
To take part in the trial, patients must complete nine surveys for which they are compensated $255 total. HHC also records data of its own, which it then reports back to UCLA.
While the results of the study are still years in the making, the topic is as important as ever due to the behavioral health industry’s rush to telehealth amid the pandemic.
The study is led by UCLA and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It’s also being conducted in partnership with the Northeast Node of the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network at Dartmouth College.