Telemedicine may prove key to fighting opioid addiction, but hurdles remain
- The White House's declaration of the opioid epidemic as a national health emergency included a regulatory change meant to give doctors the ability to write prescriptions virtually, Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports, but the technology still has a few hurdles preventing it from gaining traction among some physicians.
- Indiana-based physician Dr. Jay Joshi told KHN that in-person appointments between telemedicine sessions are vital because drug-testing can't be done remotely. Patients who may be at risk of relapse need follow-up interventions, and patients occasionally need to be seen in person as part of their treatment.
- Dr. Emily Zarse told KHN that the shortage of doctors specializing in drug addiction is another challenge for treating opioid addicted patients through telemedicine. Zarse plans to launch a training program to teach physicians how to treat drug-addicted patients in Indiana.
Employers are no stranger to the fight against opioids, having dealt with their effect on local talent pools and worker populations long before the Trump administration's declaration. The epidemic has forced many to adopt aggressive prescreening measures — but turnover is so persistent that others have kept applications for filled jobs open on LinkedIn and other sites indefinitely.
A National Business Group on Health survey found that 80% of respondents said they're concerned about widespread opioid addiction and, as a result, are partnering with health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers to fight the epidemic. Meanwhile, Quest Diagnostics found positive tests for methamphetamine use among U.S. soared 64% since 2012.
Telemedicine, increasingly a popular feature in employer-sponsored benefits, provides 24/7 access to physicians, nurses and therapists. Users can get medical advice, second opinions, referrals, advocacy and other services. Employers who provide workers with high-touch tech tools are offering a convenient, highly personalized benefit, even though the technology isn't solving every challenge in keeping people healthy.
Nonetheless, employers must be prepared for challenges in providing telemedicine treatment for opioid addiction. Among those challenges are handling patient relapses, finding suitable providers, working out insurance disputes, conducting periodic drug-testing and arranging in-person follow-up sessions. Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) may also seek solutions to the epidemic for employers, following a CVS Caremark announcement in September that the PBM would do just that.