Virtual Doctor Visits Give Substance Users Greater Access to Doctors And Medication

By David Konow 12/20/16

The system allows patients utilizing medication-assisted treatment to connect with doctors out of state. 

Doctor in labcoat on laptop.

In the hardest hit areas of the U.S. opioid epidemic, law enforcement and doctors are often overextended. In some areas, access to doctors who can prescribe Suboxone and can advise patients on treatment is limited. Now, one rehab in Maryland is trying to create better connections between patients in recovery and physicians, using virtual meetings.

A report in the Frederick News-Post says that Wells House, a Maryland rehab, has started using a system called Telemed, the first of its kind in Maryland, where patients in recovery can have virtual meetings with doctors. It was a new approach that took some getting used to for one patient interviewed by the Post, but she liked the fact that she could get easier access to a doctor, and not run the risk of not getting a consultation in time.

The medical community in Maryland can’t keep up with the growing need for treatment services. It’s difficult to find doctors who are certified to prescribe Suboxone to patients in the area, which is what inspired Wells House to utilize the Telemed pilot program. This system can connect patients with doctors who may not be local, but can counsel and prescribe medication to patients in Maryland and other rural communities.

The Telemed system was set up at Wells House a year and a half ago, and 150 patients have already utilized it. Without Telemed, some patients were in danger of not getting their medication. Charlie Mooneyhan, the executive director of Wells House, said that some patients were previously on an eight-week waiting list to see a doctor.

For a doctor to prescribe buprenorphine, they have to get a certification from the American Psychiatric Association, and initially they are only allowed to prescribe it to a 100 patients at a time. According to new federal guidelines, after one year, a doctor may request to have their patient limit increased to 275 patients.

As one Maryland doctor said, “There is a great need for more [certified physicians]” that can prescribe Suboxone. 

To use Telemed, doctors charge about $250 an hour for a consultation, and Wells House covers the cost. The Telemed system is apparently working well so far. Some patients who use it are staying in treatment longer, and there have also been less relapses among Telemed users.

Dr. Eric Weintraub of the University of Maryland Medical Center has used Telemed to treat patients, and he says, “Our ultimate goal is to increase the number of doctors that are doing this. For all these patients … we want a way for them to be seen.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.