Eur Addict Res. 2021 Mar 11:1-9. doi: 10.1159/000513471. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: This study evaluated how telemedicine as a modality for opioid agonist treatment compares to in-person care.
METHODS: We conducted a retrospective cohort study of patients enrolled in opioid agonist treatment between January 1, 2011, and December 31, 2015, in Ontario, Canada. We compared patients who received opioid agonist treatment predominantly in person, mixed, and predominantly by telemedicine. We used a logistic regression model to evaluate mortality, a Cox proportional hazard model to assess retention, and a negative binomial regression model to evaluate emergency department visits and hospitalizations. The study was performed using administrative health data with physician billing data from the Ontario Health Insurance Plan and prescription data from the Ontario Drug Benefit databases.
RESULTS: A total of 55,924 individuals were included in the study. Receiving opioid agonist treatment by predominantly telemedicine was not associated with all-cause mortality (OR = 0.9, 95% CI: 0.8-1.0), 1-year treatment retention (OR = 1.0, 95% CI: 0.9-1.1), or opioid-related emergency department visits and hospitalizations when compared to in-person care. The rate of emergency department visits (IRR = 1.4), the rate of mental health-related emergency department visits (IRR = 1.5), and the rate of mental health-related hospitalizations per year (IRR = 1.2) was higher for patients who received opioid agonist treatment predominantly by telemedicine compared to in person.
CONCLUSION: Our findings support the conclusion that telemedicine is equal to in-person care regarding mortality opioid-related emergency department visits and retention, and is a viable option for those seeking opioid agonist treatment.