Telehealth Helping Vets with SUDs

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) https://www.gao.gov published a report presented to Congressional Committees to study substance abuse related to Veterans Health Care. The report is titled “Services for Substance Use Disorders, and Efforts to Address Access Issues in Rural Areas” https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/702940.pdf.

The report points out that the veteran population is particularly at risk for Substance Use Disorders (SUD) in rural areas. Today, veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die from opioid overdose than the general population, according to VA and CDC data. Also, more veterans live in rural areas than the general population which can affect their ability to access SUD services.

One section in the report discusses the availability and use of telehealth services for the delivery of SUD services. Officials from two Veterans Health Administration https://www.va.gov/health (VHA) healthcare systems, noted that providing services such as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) utilizing telehealth technology is difficult especially when SUD services require monitoring for medication compliance.

However, a VHA official reports that the use of telehealth services overall has grown exponentially at VHA’s healthcare systems and goes beyond traditional video conferencing capabilities. The technology used can include video conferencing plus advanced technologies that can be attached to computers or video conferencing equipment.

It was found in 2019, veterans with mental disorders that received computer tablets from the VA increased the number of psychotherapy visits and were managing their medicines more effectively. Medical personnel now provide SUD services and are able to complete the necessary tests by using telehealth at the closest VA facility.

VHA officials note that providing MAT via telehealth requires a cultural change within the profession. One study reviewed confirms that acceptance within the profession appears to be the main barrier to the successful implementation of telehealth services.

Today, six VHA healthcare systems have mental health telehealth services available to facilitate the delivery of care to veterans in both urban and rural areas for SUD services and has multiple telehealth initiatives underway.

VHA has allocated more than $750,000 for rural facilities in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 towards a nationwide initiative to improve participation in a program to establish video connections in the homes of rural veterans to receive mental health treatment, including SUDs.

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