Bringing opioid use disorder treatment home in the age of COVID-19

Published May 14, 2020

Fighting the opioid crisis from home. For the Health of America.

The COVID-19 crisis has created a unique challenge for people with substance use disorders--increasing isolation, stress and the challenge of finding or staying in treatment. Bringing treatment into a patient’s home or right to the emergency room bedside could settle that storm and help a patient's journey to recovery. Here’s how.

Where access to opioid use disorder treatment is urgent

A new model is bringing virtual opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment to Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield (Highmark BCBS) members in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The region has been hit hard by opioid overdoses and addiction, which makes breaking down barriers to treatment even more urgent. West Virginia has the highest opioid overdose rate in the nation, according to the most recent data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Patients with opioid use disorder often receive treatment in person, whether it’s to receive medication assisted therapy (MAT) under supervision, counseling or other kinds of services to help their recovery. But in some areas, such as rural West Virginia, there’s a severe shortage of doctors who can provide this kind of treatment – especially MAT, considered by many the "gold standard" of care for opioid use disorder. And the COVID-19 crisis has made accessing treatment even more challenging. This service could be a game changer for those who struggled to find help even before the COVID-19 crisis. 

"The COVID-19 crisis has created even more treatment access challenges, while also fueling feelings of isolation and despair," says Dr. Caesar DeLeo, vice president and executive medical director of strategic initiatives for Highmark BCBS. "By expanding this program, we’re harnessing technology to support our members on their path to recovery during this period of social distancing.”

A new virtual OUD treatment model connects patients to multidisciplinary care, quickly

Highmark BCBS has partnered with telemedicine provider Bright Heart Health to deliver the service, which begins with a short intake and assessment, then a quick connection to medical staff and counselors through a smart phone, tablet, or computer. Services are available 24/7, and members can reach out themselves or be referred by a doctor. The patient’s treatment team develops an individualized plan.

Ideally, that plan includes MAT, which reduces drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Medications can be mailed, and doctors or counselors can observe patients taking their medication online, a practice that may provide more support during early recovery. Updates on the member’s progress are then provided to the entire care team.

Measuring the success of virtual opioid use disorder treatment

Highmark BCBS is working closely with Bright Heart Health to monitor and improve the program’s overall quality and outcomes, including tracking how long patients stay in the program.

Highmark BCBS’ new program is available for members with commercial plans, Medicare Advantage members and those with Affordable Care Act marketplace plans.

Learn more about Highmark BCBS is responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield is a licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, and association of 36 independent, locally owned and operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of 35 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and/or Blue Shield companies.