Telemedicine appears as effective as in-person care for opioid use disorder

January 31, 2023—Care for opioid use disorder can be effective whether provided in-person or via telemedicine, according to a new study co-authored by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Seeking to understand if and how the sudden rise of telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic affected quality of care for opioid use disorder, the study authors examined the insurance claims of 11,801 patients in care for the disorder in the year before the pandemic and in its first year. Between the two groups, they compared factors such as health care visits attended, medications prescribed, and clinical events such as overdoses or infections related to drug injection.

The researchers observed no meaningful differences between the groups. In the study, published January 24 in JAMA Network Open, they wrote that the results “suggest that telemedicine is a comparable alternative for delivering care for [opioid use disorder] but not one that will substantially change care quality or access in the short term.”

Michael Barnett, associate professor of health policy and management at Harvard Chan School and a co-author of the study, said in a January 24 article in The Washington Times, “[Telemedicine] largely replicated the standard model for care delivery. There is still much work to be done to improve care, but telemedicine does not appear to have created any barriers or safety issues.”

And though remote care won’t be every patient’s preference—in-person visits have unique, irreplicable benefits—“it can make a huge difference for people who would otherwise need to travel long distances or be stuck in traffic to get to an appointment,” Barnett said. “Or to enhance privacy for sensitive issues like addiction.”

Read the Washington Times article: Study supports using telemedicine for opioid addiction

Read the study: Telemedicine Use and Quality of Opioid Use Disorder Treatment in the US During the COVID-19 Pandemic