OTP Clinicians’ Responses to Telemedicine and Changes in Methadone Service Delivery During COVID-19: A Qualitative Study

During the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid therapy programs (OTPs) have been given some adaptability in dispensing methadone and also making use of telemedicine as well as various other client solutions, such as audio-only telephone check outs for specific therapy. Positive results and far better person care were seen in a Bronx OTP research study, covered individually in these pages, however a research study of views as well as feedbacks of medical professionals at 20 OTPs in 13 states discovered less-favorable end results.

The latter study, from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, pointed out medical professionals’ problems: sustainability concerns and also a possible decline in gain access to as well as top quality of care. The research study was published in May of this year in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

The Rand research study was based upon telephone meetings carried out from May 14 to June 19, 2020. Spoken with were 20 clinicians approved to dispense methadone in OTPs: medical professionals, doctor assistants, or nurse practitioners. The clinicians were inquired about exactly how adjustments in treatment patterns influenced access and quality of treatment. Authors of the research made use of rapid thematic evaluation to summarize medical professionals’ sights.

We describe the Rand study searchings for listed below.

Adjustments in medical practice

Methadone giving treatments altered at 72% of OTPs; some OTPs thought about patient threat or security when selecting increases in take-home doses

New doses ranged from a weekend break supply for unsteady people to a four-week supply for stable people. To clarify why 28% of OTPs hadn’t transformed their distributed dosages, one medical professional mentioned worries regarding liability pertaining to medication abuse.

Pee toxicology screening treatments varied markedly

About one-third of OTPs reported no change in toxicology screening procedures; concerning one-fourth talked about carrying out testings much less frequently as well as basing them on person threat; and also another quarter had actually briefly quit testing.

Some clinicians were worried that screening much less commonly might boost individual risk.

Said one, “… we’re flying more blindly. The good news is though we haven’t had any type of reported overdoses …”

Most psychosocial services were transitioned to telemedicine

Some OTPs stopped administering group therapy or used sessions far much less regularly; one OTP raised regularity, because it was hassle-free to offer clients in their own home.

Telemedicine During the Pandemic

Many OTPs evaluated– 85%– provided telemedicine for medication management, psychosocial services, or both

Telemedicine was a brand-new experience for 44% of the medical professionals.

Said one, “They’ve been attempting to press it for a while … there was a lot resistance from the individuals, from the team … Covid kind of pushed us into needing to do it.”

Concerning 25% said that insufficient compensation had kept back widespread use telemedicine prior to COVID-19.

Individual and medical professional elements figured out whether phone or video clip was selected for telemedicine

Many clinicians favored video clip, however 20% to 90% of sees were by phone instead. Factors mentioned by the clinicians held your horses’ minimal digital proficiency or their absence of technology tools, such as smart phones and also Internet accessibility.

“There have actually been some patients who are just not so smart with their computers …”

At initially, telemedicine provided logistical obstacles to OTPs

Challenges mentioned included clinic capacity, systems readily available (HIPPA conformity was an issue), and stability and dependability of the alternatives. One more concern was the time team spent aiding clients with technology.

Telemedicine “calls for additional personnel time to coordinate brows through as well as do tech assistance … Normally we’re done a minimum of by 5:00. A few days ago … we were still calling clients at 8:00 in the evening.

Individuals’ action to telemedicine

Most medical professionals– 82%– stated patients had a favorable feedback to telemedicine

Clinicians reporting a positive feedback said telemedicine saves time, minimizes transportation problems, is more flexible, and also reduces risk of COVID-19. Clinicians that believed individuals’ action had been unfavorable claimed individuals had technological problems, felt separated, or seen telemedicine as impersonal.

Describing telemedicine, a clinician said that patients in their mid-30s as well as up “simply don’t like this.”

Ramifications for high quality

Many clinicians– 75%– believed boosted use telemedicine and the other changes had negatively affected high quality of treatment. Several mentioned they were incapable to properly evaluate person status.

“You require to see the patients … touch the skin … consider the arms … take a look at the eye. Exactly how can you do this with telemedicine?”

“…specifically for the telephone sees, it makes it more difficult to build rapport with them.”

In spite of regarding negative effect on quality, some clinicians thought changes in solution distribution had actually been helpful

Patients are “in their own secure area … they can sort of open up extra.”

“If I have to place my money in supply, I will certainly put it in telemedicine, since it’s going to be the future of medication eventually. It’s been great for individuals.”

Future service-delivery plans

Most medical professionals (63%) thought about telemedicine and other solution delivery changes “wanted and also sustainable,” and desired to proceed making use of telemedicine, yet believed it was needed to increase repayment. Those who didn’t want to proceed with the changes– 21%– were either concerned about the high quality of care or really felt that people favored in-person care. Those that were unsure discussed problems about person demands and also accessibility. Pointed out: client danger and also obligation concerns.


The clinicians showed that in their OTPs, COVID-19 had led to much more take-home doses of methadone, greater usage of telemedicine for managing psychosocial solutions as well as drug, less use urine toxicology testing, and also less new individuals being approved in their program. Some medical professionals sustained boosted dosing flexibility and better use telemedicine; others were concerned that doing so might increase the risk of medicine diversion as well as overdose.

Maintaining telemedicine services, clinicians claimed, would certainly need ongoing repayment.


The medical professionals claimed the pandemic had “dramatically changed the distribution of methadone treatment in the U.S.” They likewise claimed that their searchings for suggest OTPs may have reduced methadone treatment in the very early months, “and also that the versatilities provided by plan modifications might not have led to changes in care shipment for all individuals.” The writers also raised sustainability issues as well as suggested that “high quality of treatment as well as accessibility might have decreased.”

The writers said in closing: “Future research needs to check out how these changes in methadone services as well as telemedicine effect therapy gain access to and also outcomes, consisting of retention, diversion, overdose, and also deaths.”


Seeker SB, Dopp AR, Ober AJ, Uscher-Pines L. Clinician viewpoints on methadone service shipment as well as using telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic: A qualitative research study. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 (May); 124:108288. doi:10.1016/ j.jsat.2021.108288

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