The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is set to release regulations on telehealth and controlled substance prescribing in November. These regulations will have a significant impact on the future of telehealth within the behavioral health industry and may require in-person examinations before telehealth providers can prescribe certain controlled substances.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth became a popular option for addiction treatment providers addressing opioid use disorder (OUD). However, the potential snapback to in-person requirements has caused concern for telehealth companies that heavily rely on providing care remotely. These companies have had to prepare for a regulatory environment that may restrict their ability to prescribe controlled substances virtually.
Investor interest in the digital health space has remained strong, with $15.3 billion invested in digital health companies in 2022 alone. Digital health providers aim to increase convenience and access to care, which is particularly important in regions with a shortage of behavioral health services. However, many of these companies have had to anticipate the possibility of in-person requirements and establish in-person offices or strengthen partnerships with primary care providers.
There is hope that the DEA will consider public commentary on the issue. The agency has signaled that it understands the importance of telehealth in mental health care and may be open to a special registration process for telehealth-only prescribing. However, the requirement for in-person exams may cause significant delays in accessing critical treatment, such as medication-assisted treatment for OUD.
Virtual behavioral health providers have already begun establishing infrastructure for in-person examinations. They are also considering various aspects of patients’ lives, such as transportation coordination and childcare, to ensure uninterrupted care. Technology infrastructure has been modified to assist with referrals and enable in-person examinations.
Providers that have taken a partnership approach to patient referrals may be less affected the proposed rule. However, the full impact of the DEA’s regulations will only be known once they are released in November.
– Behavioral Health Business: [source link]
– Federal government statistics: [source link]