More than OUD treatment: What else can telehealth help with?

Even though medical practices have resumed normal operations, telehealth remains a valuable tool for patients who are in recovery or otherwise can’t travel.

Ophelia team
Telehelath and opioid use disorder treatment
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Fact checked by
Arthur Robin Williams, MD

Telehealth has become an integral part of the healthcare industry due to its accessibility. Alternatives to in-person visits have seen a surge in demand during and following the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing patients to receive necessary primary and specialty healthcare services while following social distancing protocols. During the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth made it easier for patients to check in with their healthcare providers for everything from routine appointments to urgent care questions. For patients with opioid use disorder (OUD), telehealth as the basis for a medication for addiction treatment (MAT) program improved retention rates.

Even though medical practices have long since resumed normal operations, telehealth remains a valuable tool for patients who are in recovery or otherwise can’t travel to an appointment. 

5 lesser known ways to use telehealth services

Telehealth services have expanded access to opioid treatment, especially in areas that might be underserved by physical clinics. The same principle is true for other forms of medical care, making it a valuable tool for patients across age groups, locations, and health needs.

1. Primary + urgent care

If patients already have a regular healthcare provider, telemedicine primary care services can be a convenient option. The clinician will have access to their current lab results and medical history reports, making it easier to provide care remotely. Patients can use secure patient portals to request medication refills and access recent lab reports.

Similarly, taking advantage of telehealth urgent care services can save you the time and headache of trying to get to a doctor’s office. While some cases, like an injury that requires X-rays or stitches, still require an in-person visit, getting help for a minor illness can be done online. This is especially valuable for patients who don’t have a primary care provider or whose provider cannot see them quickly.

2. Chronic disease management

Telehealth and chronic disease management have become integrated services. Patients can communicate with their physician via video chat to discuss any new symptoms of illness. The doctor will also evaluate any changes in their appearance. 

Patients can also remotely inquire about their health, measure their blood pressure using specialty equipment, and share the results with their doctor. Additionally, patients can follow up after virtual or in-person appointments.

3. Fertility treatment

Individuals living in rural areas with limited access to fertility specialists can benefit from telehealth fertility services. Through video conferencing, fertility specialists can monitor patients during IVF treatment, provide education on how to use injectables and other medications, and offer counseling support during the emotional journey.

4. Wound care

Attending in-person doctor's appointments can be challenging and painful for people with severe wounds. Fortunately, telehealth wound care provides a convenient solution to this problem. Patients with both acute injuries, like burns or lacerations, and wounds related to chronic conditions stand to benefit.

By leveraging video chat technology, wound care specialists can examine the wound, evaluate its healing progress, and recommend appropriate next steps. Even if a practitioner advises an in-person appointment, the use of telemedicine can help reduce the likelihood of ER visits and hospital stays. Furthermore, patients can share a picture of the wound with their doctor to determine if it is healing correctly. The care provider can have wound care supplies delivered to a patient’s home to put their comfort first.

5. Surgical follow-up care

Telehealth even has a place in the surgical process. Since most procedures require follow-up appointments during recovery, patients need to find the time and resources to see their doctor. Unfortunately, the time, distance, and cost can be barriers for some, resulting in “no-show” incidents at clinics and doctor’s offices. This means a certain percentage of people who have had surgery aren’t getting the follow-up care they need.

A study conducted by the University of Alabama Birmingham between January 2018 and December 2021 showed that relying on telehealth for post-surgery care reduced the likelihood of no-shows by 79%, even with the challenges of the pandemic that arrived in the middle of the study period.

How telehealth is used for OUD

Intake process

For individuals seeking treatment for OUD, intake is the first step of the process. This initial consultation can take place via a video visit. The clinician asks questions about a patient’s substance use and medical history. From there, the clinical care team determines the best treatment plan to help the patient reach their goals.

Prescriptions + ongoing support

A patient with OUD might be prescribed Suboxone® or a generic combination of buprenorphine and naloxone as part of MAT. These medications help manage withdrawal symptoms, minimize cravings, and reduce the risk of overdose (important safety information). There is no longer an X-waiver certification requirement for MAT providers to prescribe buprenorphine. Additionally, MAT providers with a license to prescribe the medication can do so using specialty telehealth services.  

Through telehealth communication, the clinical care team can assist patients with medication management, answer questions, call to check in, assess symptoms, and order prescription refills for pick-up at nearby pharmacies.  

Urine testing

After a patient starts buprenorphine, clinicians use routine urine drug testing as a tool to discover whether the patient is taking the medication. In an Ophelia peer-reviewed study, the first month after starting buprenorphine, almost 100% of patients had urine drops that tested positive for the medication, as prescribed. 

After the patient starts taking the medication, they receive an unmarked box in the mail that contains the urine test kit. The urine test will be administered during the second virtual visit. The patient opens the kit during the video chat with their clinician. The patient then takes a few minutes to use the restroom to provide the sample. The patient returns to the video chat and shows the clinician each side of the cup. The test strips determine the results immediately and can confirm if the specimen is valid. If the results of the test do not show the presence of buprenorphine, clinicians can help the patient refocus on their goals.


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