posted by American Telemedicine Association
on March 18, 2019
As the opioid crisis devastates the United States, particularly in rural areas, telehealth can play a crucial role in reducing opioid misuse and abuse and to reduce opioid-related deaths.
However, there are still barriers to fully incorporating telehealth and enhancing patient access. In an effort to stop Internet “pill mills” that dispense powerful painkillers for non-medical reasons, The Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (“Ryan Haight Act”) also resulted in an unintended consequence. The Ryan Haight Act requires that, in most cases, a telehealth provider must conduct at least one in-person medical evaluation of a patient before remotely prescribing any controlled substances. Unfortunately that means patients cannot get medication assisted treatment (MAT) from legitimate telehealth providers who engage in remote prescribing.
To solve for this, a provision for a special registration for telemedicine was promised in the Ryan Haight Act, which is expected to take effect no later than Oct 24, 2019.
While the details of this special registration are still unknown, many groups, including the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), are committed to advancing telehealth intervention for patients with pain and for those suffering from substance use disorders.
Recently, the ATA submitted recommendations to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on how to design a registration process that would allow for MAT via telehealth, while also providing the various medical disciplines an avenue to expand access to quality care through telehealth. Our recommendations include:
Telehealth offers promise to expand needed services to remote and rural areas. The technology can be used to deliver appropriate pain treatment, behavioral health, and substance use disorder treatment to patients in need. However, policy and advocacy opportunities exist, including working with the DEA and other stakeholders to align priorities, to expanding telehealth as a viable, affordable option to access high-quality care.