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Initiating Opioid Use Disorder Medication via Telemedicine During COVID-19: Implications for Proposed Reforms to the Ryan Haight Act.

Huskamp HA, Riedel L, Uscher-Pines L, Busch AB, Barnett ML, Raja P, Mehrotra A. Initiating Opioid Use Disorder Medication via Telemedicine During COVID-19: Implications for Proposed Reforms to the Ryan Haight Act. Journal of general internal medicine. 2022 Jan 1; 37(1):162-167.

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BACKGROUND: The Ryan Haight Act generally requires a clinician to conduct an in-person visit before prescribing an opioid use disorder (OUD) medication. This requirement has impeded use of telemedicine to expand OUD treatment, and many policymakers have called for its removal. During the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning March 16, 2020, the requirement was temporarily waived. It is unclear whether clinicians who treat OUD patients perceive telemedicine to be a safe and effective means of OUD medication initiation. OBJECTIVE: To understand clinician use of and comfort level with using telemedicine to initiate patients on medication for opioid use disorder. DESIGN: National survey administered electronically via WebMD/Medscape's online clinician panel in fall 2020. PARTICIPANTS: A total of 602 clinicians (primary care providers, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners or certified nurse specialists, and physician assistants) participated in the survey. MAIN MEASURES: Frequency of video, audio-only, and in-person visits for medication initiation, comfort level with using video for new patient visits with OUD. KEY RESULTS: Clinicians varied substantially in their use of telemedicine for medication initiation. Approximately 25% used telemedicine for most initiations while 40% used only in-person visits. The majority (55.8%) expressed at least some discomfort with using telemedicine for treating new OUD patients, although clinicians with more OUD patients were less likely to express such discomfort. CONCLUSION: Findings suggest that a permanent relaxation of the Ryan Haight requirement may not result in widespread adoption of telemedicine for OUD medication initiation without additional supports or incentives.

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