The Role of Digital Health In Treating OUD

Article

In a study recently published in the JAMA Network, researchers sought to investigate the use of patient-facing digital health technologies for opioid use disorder (OUD) by organizations in the United States with ACO contracts. The search began as it was unclear whether these technologies serve as substitute or complements to traditional SUD treatment resources in health care organizations.

Health organizations with accountable care organization (ACO) contracts use digital health technology for opioid use disorder (OUD) as complements to available substance use disorder (SUD) treatment resources rather than as a substitute for unavailable treatment resources.

In a study recently published in the JAMA Network, researchers sought to investigate the use of patient-facing digital health technologies for OUD by organizations in the United States with ACO contracts. The search began as it was unclear whether these technologies serve as substitute or complements to traditional SUD treatment resources in health care organizations.

According to researchers and authors of the study, medication and behavioral treatment for OUD is scarce. Many barriers make access to OUD treatment challenging, including transportation and limited numbers of mental health and SUD clinicians.

Digital health technologies are suggested to have the potential to alleviate barriers and expand access to treatment for OUD patients. These tools can support OUD treatment through remote mental health therapy and tracking, virtual peer recovery support programs and digital recovery support.

Remote mental health therapy and tracking includes telemedicine counseling and mobile resources, which may encourage patients to continuously track outcomes or reach a therapist if needed.

Over 250 organizations with Medicare or Medicaid ACO contracts were observed using 2022 National Survey of Accountable Care Organizations (NSACO) data as these contracts are responsible for the quality and costs of care of a designated population.

The 2022 survey added questions related to SUD treatment resources, then electronic surveys were sent to leaders such as population health officers, chief operating officers, and Medicare ACO public contacts of 505 organizations from October 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022, yielding 304 respondents from 276 organizations.

A data analysis was performed between December 15, 2022, and January 6, 2023.

Results of the research suggested digital health technologies for OUD are more likely to be deployed by organizations with relatively traditional SUD treatment resources like an addiction medicine specialist or a registry to track mental health. These organizations were more likely to use at least 1 category of digital health tech for OUD compared with organizations lacking these resources, the study said.

Approximately 101 respondents reported their organization used remote mental health therapy and tracking (80 [26.5%]), virtual peer recovery support programs (46 [15.1%]), and digital recovery support for adjuvant CBT (27 [9.0%]).

Though digital health was found to be used as a complement to SUD treatment, future studies are encouraged to examine implementation facilitators to realize the potential of digital health technologies to better support organizations facing practitioner shortages and other barriers to OUD treatment delivery.

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