Many opioid treatment programs (OTPs) have struggled with technical problems in using telehealth amid the COVID-19 emergency. But despite that, the vast majority of OTPs indicate that technology has helped them improve access to treatment amid the coronavirus.
That’s according to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG).
The report is based on responses from 142 OTPs, who were randomly selected and audited by the OIG. Of those, 128 said they implemented or expanded the use of telehealth to continue providing services amid the coronavirus emergency.
About 70% of those auditees — or 87 providers — reported problems implementing or using telehealth, whether those challenges were related to staff, patients or both.
Common problems detailed in the report include knowledge gaps in learning how to use telehealth software, as well as a lack of access to the internet, technology and equipment necessary to deliver telehealth services. Another common challenge detailed in the report includes lack of funds necessary to purchase telehealth equipment.
Still, even with those challenges, the 128 providers that implemented or expanded telehealth amid COVID-19 seemed overall to have positive things to say about the use of virtual care.
“Our no-show rate is nonexistent because of telehealth,” said one OTP quoted in the report. “We have bus and transportation issues when weather is bad, but with telehealth it is not an issue. The verbal feedback from patients is 100% satisfaction.”
Meanwhile, another provider referenced in the report said that telehealth helped make patients more willing to participate. For example, they were more apt to take part in an hour-long conversation over the phone, rather than participate in an on-site, in-person meeting for the same period of time.
Providers reported using a variety of platforms to deliver telehealth, from Google Voice, Zoom, and BlueJeans to Doximity and Doxy.me. They also said they often called patients to check in, in addition to conducting diversion checks via video.
Overall, respondents said training, flexibility and more frequent communication were key to making the implementation of telehealth successful.
The report suggests that, with a little help and continued flexibility from payers, telehealth could continue to be beneficial to providers post-pandemic, ensuring better access to care for the millions of Americans who need it.