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Telemedicine along the cascade of care for substance use disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of healthcare service delivery. This review aims to describe telemedicine-delivered substance use disorder (SUD) treatments and services along the cascade of care in the U.S. after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A literature review was conducted on PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and Cochrane Library (Wiley). English-language articles that describe any healthcare services for patients with SUDs using telemedicine in the U.S. since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic were identified (N = 33). We narratively summarized telemedicine-based service provision along the cascade of SUD care, such as screening/assessment, prescription, monitoring, recovery support, and other services. Soon after the onset of COVID-19 and mandated restrictions, cadres of healthcare providers from different specialties mobilized to ramp up video- and audio-based services to remotely treat patients with SUDs. Medication prescription (48.5%) and individual counseling (39.4%) were the most frequently reported services delivered via telemedicine. Other steps of SUD care delivered by telemedicine characterized in our review included SUD screening and assessment (30.3%), induction (21.2%), medication management (27.3%), monitoring (27.3%), recovery support (15.2%), and referral (24.2%). Feasibility issues and challenges to implementing telemedicine included patients’ lack of access to technology and health insurance coverage, providers’ capacity limits and concerns, and clinics’ financial and office-space constraints. The COVID-19 pandemic has offered a window of opportunity to advance telemedicine expertise by formalizing clinical guidance and routinizing provider in-service training in virtual SUD treatment. Findings suggest enhanced efforts to reduce disparities in telemedicine-based services.

Authors: Lin, Chunqing; Pham, Huyen; Zhu, Yuhui; Clingan, Sarah E; Lin, Lewei Allison; Murphy, Sean M; Campbell, Cynthia I; Sorrell, Tanya R; Liu, Yanping; Mooney, Larissa J; Hser, Yih-Ing

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2023 Jan 01;242:109711. Epub 2022-11-23.

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