Q&A: Telehealth’s role in fighting the opioid epidemic

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of drug overdose deaths in the US has increased. CDC estimates that more than 107,000 people will die in 2021, an increase of nearly 15% from more than 93,000 deaths in 2020.

But the pandemic has also brought about a sudden increase in the use of telehealth. Regulations around teleprescribing of controlled substances has been relaxed during the public health emergency, allowing providers and startups to offer supportive drug treatments such as Buprenorphine for opioid use disorder.

One of those companies, Bike health provide virtual care as well as prescribe medication. Ankit Gupta CEO and Founder and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Clear sat down with MobiHealthNews discusses the treatment landscape for patients struggling with an opioid use disorder and the startup’s recent performance Raise $50 million Series B.

MobiHealthNews: Why do you think telemedicine works well for this population?

Dr. Brian Clear: It’s all about access. So we just know that one in 10 patients with actual substance use disorder being treated for the past year. There are plenty of reasons for that, mostly around geographic reach. Forty percent of the particles There is not even a registered provider in the United States that will give you buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder.

There is also stigma. Especially in towns where everyone in their health system or their neighbors know who they are, patients are reluctant to go to these programs, which are licensed programs that certify care. addiction specialists, and it is known that these programs provide specialist addiction care.

In our program, we find that 30% of the patients we contact have never been previously diagnosed with an opiate use disorder and have never had access to use disorder care. opiates in the past, which is truly remarkable. That means we’re attracting people who don’t have access to any other level of care. Finally, we broke the cycle of just serving the same small, tiny group of patients over and over again.

Ankit Gupta: Yes, and I’ll give you an example. Only one New regulations in Alabama was recently released where an in-person visit within the past 12 months is required to prescribe a controlled substance. We have, over the past two months or so, had an entire task force working tirelessly to help hundreds of our patients find local providers in Alabama.

After all that effort, we still find that less than 20% of patients actually find a local provider. That’s because the provider is not available. They are not affordable. There is a lot of stigma as mentioned by Brian. We have had reports that patients did not want to be seen when entering the clinic; They don’t want to park outside. So we were in serious trouble.

We literally had to fly a few providers to Alabama and spend a week there just to comply with the regulations so we could continue to care for the patients we had. We are not enrolling any new patients, but to continue to care for the patients we have, until we find a suitable option for them on the basis. And so, there’s only one major shortage, so much access.

MHN: Had one increase in deaths from drug overdose in the past few years. What have you heard from patients about their experience accessing care?

Strange: It’s always bleak and the access hasn’t gotten any worse in the last two years. What has happened is that fentanyl is now virtually ubiquitous in the illicit drug supply. Thus, patients who are taking illicit opioids are at a much higher risk of overdose than in the past.

COVID has kept people in their homes for a very long time and made people even more reluctant to access already limited resources. Now, I think we’re starting to get over that and people are getting back to a more normal life. So I can’t say that the COVID restrictions are putting people off.

But now we’re in a place where it’s not just fentanyl; it’s the new analogues of fentanyl – even more potent – in the illicit drug supply.

Gupta: we sent a survey to the patient about four or five months ago. There were about 1,000 patients, and we asked them many questions, one of which was about their prospects for addiction recovery and treatment during COVID.

And what we learned is completely different from the narrative out there. We know that 77% of our patients say the pandemic has not made it harder to maintain or achieve recovery. In fact, 42% said it made it easier. So again, it shows how telehealth can really improve accessibility.

MHN: Bicycle Health recently raised $50 million Series B. How do you plan to use that investment?

Gupta: So far, we have been quite successful in reaching patients; To date we have served more than 17,000 patients across 26 states. But we are still getting started.

We will use this investment to continue to increase access to opioid use disorder treatment. That includes hiring health care providers so we can increase our ability to see patients, building our technology to help us both deliver care and increase the quality of care through data analysis and patient interaction tools that we have built in our randomized homes home drug testing program.

We’ve also had some success partnering with health plans. We see strong demand, both from commercial as well as from Medicaid managed care plans, to increase accessibility by reducing costs for this group of patients. So we’re investing in strengthening those partnerships.

We have now begun to receive interest from providers who want to work with us, refer patients to us, or co-manage patients. We also want to use this investment to strengthen our partnerships with healthcare providers, case managers, discharge planners, especially in the rehabilitation facility. as well as with employers to reach patients.

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