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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have released the best practices for telehealth in a final report that also gives solutions to help reduce barriers for telehealth to help substance use disorders. 

CMS released the report to help increase telehealth services and the effectiveness of Medicaid services through telehealth, according to a press release from the American Hospital Association. CMS is also trying to provide states with more flexibility when it comes to telehealth and facing the opioid crisis. 

Substance abuse is a serious public health concern, with 3.7% of adolescents (12 to 17 years old) and 12.9% of young adults (18 to 20) affected, according to the telehealth report

“Substance using adolescents are more likely to experience worse mental health and have behavioral problems and to have poorer academic outcomes,” the report states. “Adolescents with early onset heavy substance use are most likely to remain heavy users as they transition into adulthood. Despite evidence for the effectiveness of many different treatment modalities for adolescents, only 14.1% received any form of SUD treatment.”

Individuals with opioid use disorder are even less likely to receive treatment for a number of reasons: Stigma may prevent them or their parents from seeking help, lack of transportation or local availability and financial limits.

But telehealth can help resolve these problems, especially as it becomes more prevalent. 

As telehealth continues to grow, better practices will continue to develop to help with substance abuse. Organizational readiness, engagement of staff and technology that has been invested in will help ensure telehealth runs smoothly. There also needs to be efforts to keep the service going and to increase technology acceptance. 

But there are barriers that need to be broken. 

“The environmental scan revealed that the lack of technology investment and technology acceptance are barriers to the provision of services via telehealth,” the report states. “Ongoing service delivery, capacity issues, licensing and credentialing requirements can also be challenging. Key informants added that barriers often exist due to state limits and restrictions on reimbursement for telehealth services.”

Workforce shortages can also prove to be barriers. 

But CMS has developed solutions to address telehealth barriers, including better organization and ongoing service development. 

“The key informants stressed the value of having a dedicated telehealth program coordinator to facilitate solutions to common barriers and the importance of site-based staff to support telehealth programs was emphasized in the case studies,” the report states. “Initiatives to increase technology access (e.g., broadband internet) and decrease technology costs may help address barriers to service delivery. Training of clinical and administrative staff and patients may also improve technology acceptance.”

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