Good news for substance use recovery providers who weren’t ready to give up the telemedicine extensions brought on by the state of emergency caused by COVID-19: SAMSGA, PHE, and the DEA issued the Temporary Extension of COVID-19 Telemedicine Flexibilities for Prescription of Controlled Medications rule on May 11th. The rule is slated to extend flexibilities regarding telehealth and electronic prescriptions of controlled substances until November 11, 2024.
Why the Extension?
On March 1st, 2023, the DEA and HHS issued notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to allow practitioners to prescribe certain controlled substances through telehealth appointments instead of mandating in-person evaluations. The NPRM was open to comments, and it got 38,000 comments from the public highlighting the benefits of making the extension permanent. The DEA and SAMSHA are reviewing the comments to develop a permanent rule.
Why the Extension Should Be Permanent
Better Access to Care
More than 21 million people in the United States struggle with substance use. Only 10% receive treatment. This is exacerbated in rural areas, where, despite a lower population density, substance use and overdoses are disproportionally higher than in urban areas. While substance use disorders don’t discriminate, social determinants of health like income status can affect individuals’ severity and treatment options, with low income having an especially high effect on overdose risks.
Telehealth doesn’t entirely solve the problem of access to care, but it can help. Clients who live in underserved or rural areas can find care from facilities hours or even days away. It also allows individuals who need to take care of children, can’t miss work shifts, or are unable to find transportation. In addition, the stigma of addiction remains a difficult barrier to overcome. Clients can maintain their privacy by using telehealth appointments instead of driving to what could be the only substance-use agency in the county or state. It’s also more cost-effective, which can make a considerable impact on clients’ treatment, particularly low-income individuals. If you’re not asking them to miss a paycheck or pay for gas, they find it easier to adhere to their treatment.
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Another reason telehealth is needed? Substance use recovery requires long-term, focused care. When clients return to their environment, stressors, other people using substances, or mental health can cause devastating relapses. Mental health and substance use disorders can make the individual feel isolated, which compounds the issues. With telehealth, they can send secure and private messages between sessions or reach out to a support group they otherwise could not reach. The client doesn’t have to be alone during difficult times, which can make all the difference. Regular check-ins are critical to monitor client health.
Improve Medication Compliance
Research shows that Medication-Assisted Recovery (MAT) is highly effective when followed throughout treatment and leads to better rates of long-term sobriety, but it’s not uncommon for people to stop treatment for various reasons. Lack of access is one of the reasons. If a person has to keep missing shifts or cannot find childcare every time they need to refill a prescription, they start skipping doses or stopping treatment altogether. By allowing practitioners to prescribe controlled substances via telehealth appointments instead of mandating in-person visits, we can ensure more clients stay MAT compliant, which increases survival rates and boost treatment outcomes.
Find Much-Needed Efficiencies
Telehealth can allow providers to see more clients in less time. It can also reduce wait times (which in turn increases appointment availability) and ensure clients continue to show up for treatment. That adds up to better treatment outcomes, less burnout in staff, and higher revenue. The efficiency is multiplied when the telehealth sessions are conducted from a platform integrated within your EHR; there’s no need to re-enter appointment data in the schedule or billing components, and your workflow is streamlined. In addition, you can start the appointment right from your EHR, which includes all client data and note-taking tools, instead of using another app and juggling multiple tools.
EPCS can help providers reduce mistakes, which could be dangerous for clients. You can streamline your process with integrated tools: no need to call the pharmacy or manually add medication to a portal. Providers can check medication adherence and make notes in the EHR, check for allergies, or ensure a client is not showing signs of addiction.
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Public Health Considerations
While most people seem to consider COVID-19 as over and done, there are still variants emerging. Other infectious diseases like the flu are also a problem, especially in healthcare workers, who are at the front line and deal with additional stressors and lack of sleep, which can make their illnesses worse. With telehealth, clients and providers can reduce the spread of diseases without letting them interrupt care.
It can also be helpful for clients with chronic conditions. Clients often deal with multiple chronic conditions in addition to substance use. Some may have gotten injured at work and got addicted to opioids and others became hurt as a result of substance use. Telehealth and EPCS can reduce the strain on their mental and physical health.
Integrated Solutions in a Visual Workflow
EchoVantage is a highly visual EHR platform designed for substance use recovery providers. We provide flexible telehealth sessions for groups or individuals, complete with error checks. Our fully integrated e-prescribe speeds up your workflow to get clients the medication they need on time while keeping up with compliance and safety checks. See what EchoVantage could do for your agency. Schedule a demo today.