J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 Jun 24:108544. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2021.108544. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the U.S. health care system, including addiction treatment. The objective of this study is to describe the impact of COVID on the delivery of treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) from the perspectives of service providers.
METHODS: Between May and September 2020, 61 service providers from 16 SUD treatment sites in California participated in virtual focus groups that lasted about an hour. We recorded the discussions and transcribed them verbatim. Two qualitative analysts independently conducted content analysis to identify themes from the transcripts.
RESULTS: At the beginning of the pandemic, service providers observed a slight decrease in patient admissions, followed by an uptick in patient flow due to increased mental health issues, alcohol use, and relapse. Many of the clinics adopted flexible service delivery modes, such as curbside dosing and extended take-home medication, to enable social distancing in clinic settings. Approximately half of the clinic encounters offered telemedicime, and a considerable proportion of patients preferred to use telephone-based services rather than video-based services. Internet instability and technical difficulties limited the use of telemedicine among their patients.
CONCLUSION: COVID has been challenging for SUD treatment, but health care systems rapidly reacted with adjustments that may result in long-term changes in SUD service delivery. Telemedicine-based services have played a major role in ensuring uninterrupted patient care. Providers need organizational, technical, and logistical support to improve and sustain telemedicine services that increase access to quality care for their patients.