The Growth Channel

How telehealth can help your hospital improve addiction care

by Sharareh Afshani and Emily Heuser

With over 130 overdose deaths each day and more than 2.1 million individuals with an opioid use disorder (OUD), the statistics of the opioid epidemic are staggering.

Your next virtual visit targets: Rural consumers

Such a complex issue demands a comprehensive response. Health systems and government programs have found promising success with long-term medication-assisted treatment (MAT) administered via a hub-and-spoke model of care delivery.

However, a key barrier to effective treatment and recovery for OUD is still access to providers who hold waivers from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that allow them to administer MAT. This access issue is particularly acute for individuals in remote or rural service areas.

How telehealth can help boost access to OUD treatment

Telehealth is one way to improve access and bridge these gaps in the hub-and-spoke care model. And, with a proposed rule from CMS that adds three new codes to the 2020 Physician Fee Schedule to cover MAT for OUD as a telehealth service, this approach may soon become part of the new gold standard for addiction treatment and a valuable tool for health care organizations in responding to the epidemic.

But beyond its promising impact on population health, telehealth for MAT and OUD also has potential to positively impact your cost-savings strategy. A recent analysis by Premier found that total care for patients who experienced an opioid overdose resulted in $1.94 billion in annual hospital costs across 647 healthcare facilities nationwide. Extrapolating this hospital cost data revealed that opioid overdose patients would add more than $11.3 billion to the health care system each year, totaling 1% of all hospital expenditures.

For health systems, telehealth may reduce financial strain tied to the costs of repeated overdose care. By expanding patient access to MAT providers, telehealth has the potential to improve continuity in addiction treatment and recovery, thereby reducing the number of future relapses and overdose-related hospital admissions.

The proposed rule is in its public comment period through September 27, 2019, and set to go into effect as a final rule by January 1, 2020. In the meantime, help make the case within your organization for investing in a broader telehealth strategy for substance abuse and addiction treatment to improve patient outcomes and reduce the financial burden of this public health crisis. 

Learn more: Develop a proactive opioid response strategy

Opioid abuse and addiction have spread across the country—ravaging communities, flooding emergency departments and inpatient beds, and creating unprecedented urgency for hospitals and health systems to respond.

Use this infographic to learn how your organization can help confront the opioid epidemic.

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