Contributed: Digital health and opioid use disorder

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The alarming scale of the opioid use dysfunction (OUD) epidemic has resulted in unprecedented human and monetary devastation, and there could also be essential various for digital devices to vary the gold commonplace of care to at the least one which’s ongoing and on-demand.

The epidemic has solely worsened as a result of the onset of COVID-19, given heightened monetary instability, social isolation, disruption to transportation and decreased entry to in-person assist firms.

We’ve obtained begun to see elevated proliferation and adoption of data-driven, on-demand telemedicine choices by suppliers. The pandemic significantly has accelerated the normalization of practically enabled care and familiarization with digitally delivered treatments amongst clinicians, pharmacists, caregivers and victims alike.

The convergence of all these parts – the gorgeous damaging affect on human life, an uptick in digitally pushed innovation inside the OUD home and a willingness by suppliers and victims to undertake such choices – makes investments by all key stakeholders all by the healthcare ecosystem inside the OUD digital properly being home every participating and properly timed.

Though there was a serious amount of digital disruption inside the OUD market, lingering unmet needs exist, as many current choices require a mix of in-person and app-based interactions. Leisure of in-person go to requirements and reimbursement parity for lots of telemedicine firms amidst COVID-19 bode successfully for continued use of these digital interventions.

To be certain that telehealth and telemedicine to truly permit expanded entry to care for geographies lacking expert suppliers or neighborhood properly being sources, we would need to see elevated innovation in digital-first, direct-to-consumer devices, along with an extension of reimbursement.

Till then, further built-in and full tech-enabled choices that incorporate medication-assisted remedy (MAT) whereas minimizing in-person interactions shall be increasingly vital. Within the next few years, we’re going to seemingly see:

  • Elevated normalization of digital or app-based packages as the standard of care.
  • On-demand and ongoing distant care, moderately than episodic provide.
  • Decreased stigma and means of life disruption as a consequence of accessible digital choices.
  • Employers bundling digital OUD firms in benefits to reinforce employee wellbeing and reduce full medical expense.
  • Payers shifting in route of value-based outcomes for OUD packages, with digitally enabled firms to observe compliance and incentivize retention.
  • Acceleration of partnerships between know-how and healthcare suppliers.
  • Massive techs partnering with further ‘conventional’ healthcare firms to extend entry to firms and improve provide of digital OUD remedy selections.

Human and monetary affect of opioid misuse – and the affect of COVID-19

Opioid abuse ends in giant destruction, every by means of cascading financial penalties along with lack of life. By means of the monetary affect, the opioid dependancy epidemic costs $200 billion yearly. Given the magnitude of loss attributable to opioid abuse, along with the stress on an already overburdened healthcare system, the need for extra sensible OUD treatments is every dire and time delicate.

Explicit demographics are at heightened menace. Rural communities face a myriad of social and monetary parts, compounded by an absence of availability of in-person remedy. Moreover, the number of expectant mothers combating OUD has quadrupled over the earlier 20 years.

Youths are moreover disproportionately affected, with virtually 4,100 lethal overdoses in 2017 alone. Moreover, the VA has printed analysis discovering veterans at elevated menace of opioid overdose or suicide dying, highlighting the need for ongoing digitally enabled sources and follow-up care.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the depth of the opioid catastrophe and want for enhancements in care. American Dependancy Facilities tales that the monetary affect of COVID-19, with 20.5 million jobs misplaced in April alone primarily based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has exacerbated the hyperlink between substance abuse and unemployment.

Despair and nervousness fueled by social isolation have led to upticks in relapse numbers, and social distancing has lowered functionality for in-person remedy facilities and assist groups. Even by June 2020, relapses had been rising significantly inside the Appalachian Mountains space, which has historically been flagged by the CDC for inordinately extreme numbers of opioid overdoses and deaths. Nationwide, overdose deaths elevated by ~15% between March and June 2020.

With a turbulent path forward regarding state guidelines, public properly being and monetary circumstances, the utility of digital devices to supply ongoing care for OUD victims is significant.

Coverage changes and implications driving digital

Exterior of population-specific and COVID-19 related issues, broader U.S. protection changes in present months and years are conducive to wider adoption of digitally enabled OUD care. Within the wake of the COVID-19 public properly being emergency, CMS shortly expanded Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement to include parity for in-office and telehealth visits.

Previous to March, solely 14,000 Medicare beneficiaries had acquired a telehealth service in a given week, whereas over 10.1 million utilized telehealth from mid-March to mid-July 2020. The big spike in utilization demonstrates every a necessity for and willingness to undertake telemedicine all through every victims and suppliers.

The identical silver lining of the pandemic-induced public properly being emergency was the reduction of the 2008 Ryan Haight Act, which amended the federal Managed Substances Act to impose a prohibition on prescribing managed substances with out having first carried out not lower than one in-person medical evaluation, with some exceptions.

In March of 2020, the DEA confirmed that most of the people properly being emergency as a consequence of COVID-19 licensed as an exception, thereby enabling suppliers to prescribe managed substances by telemedicine. A affected individual can subsequently full your total course of, from screening and prognosis to buying a prescription and beginning remedy, solely by digital means.

Additional, in early August 2020, President Trump signed an govt order to extend rural properly being entry to telemedicine, whereas CMS launched the proposed physician free schedule for 2021, which included bolder telemedicine allowances, along with the extension of reimbursement parity.

These actions by the political and healthcare authorities bode successfully for every telemedicine and OUD remedy, signaling a broader movement in route of accelerating entry to and reimbursement for practically enabled properly being firms. Based on their founders, firms like Ophelia and Bicycle Well being have taken advantage of the versatile legal guidelines to launch solely digital OUD packages and seen optimistic enrollment outcomes.

Digital OUD remedy panorama: Alternatives and predictions

The current remedy panorama combines a mix of digital and in-person firms. A small number of opponents provide full, built-in choices incorporating MAT – albeit requiring in-person interactions to start with and/or at outlined intervals, though waiving the in-person go to requirement – has allowed innovators (e.g., Bicycle Well being, Halcyon Well being, Ophelia, Workit Well being and Eleanor Well being) to pursue a digital model aggressively, if not solely, from the outset.

Nonetheless, practically all of avid gamers inside the digital properly being OUD home cope with collaborating with clients to enrich MAT: connecting clients to remedy facilities, assist groups, digital steering and coaching, or in another case showing as a companion machine to permit ongoing and on-demand entry to the overarching remedy program (e.g., DynamiCare, Pear Therapeutics, Boulder Care, Teams, BUP app, Assist Close to and Now app, Marigold Well being, and Path).

Supplier-focused devices moreover exist, akin to scientific alternative assist devices and built-in care platforms, which permit clinicians to greater assess menace, monitor compliance and exchange remedy plans accordingly (e.g., Quartet Well being and WeJoin Well being Administration).

COVID-19 has further exacerbated the opioid epidemic and demonstrated every the need for further accessible choices, along with the possibility for telemedicine and digital properly being to bridge gaps in care, enhance entry to firms and assist in destigmatization. CEOs of quite a lot of predominant healthtech firms have well-known that COVID-19 has modified the remedy panorama, as relaxed regulation and elevated need gasoline practically enabled care.

“[COVID-19] modified issues massively, with extra overdoses and other people unable to entry a neighborhood physician or group,” Ankit Gupta, CEO of Bicycle Well being, acknowledged. “Unemployment and psychological well being points have worsened … pointing in direction of a worse opioid epidemic. We try to … see sufferers as shortly as attainable. … Due to this extra demand and changes to regulation, we elevated our month-to-month enrollment price 20x and [have grown] geographically.”

Dr. Corey McCann, CEO of Pear Therapeutics, which presents prescription digital therapeutics for OUD and SUD, well-known that COVID-19 has pushed the world “… right into a distant care setting, accelerating the mixing between telemedicine and PDTs.”

He recognized that this creates a risk for seamless individual acquisition and engagement, whereby a affected individual can “self-identify with an internet advert after which click on via to obtain a prognosis and prescription.”

In an similar vein, Zack Grey, CEO of Ophelia, pointed to the need for consolation and accessibility.

“If you consider it, folks can textual content their drug seller, so therapy must be higher and simpler,” he acknowledged. “It must be simply as discrete … persons are extra incentivized if they will begin and obtain therapy at residence.”

There is an opportunity for know-how to assemble on current capabilities and sort out persistent unmet needs referring to lack of care coordination, obstacles to remedy initiation and modification, and a provider’s functionality to guage affected individual menace and monitor compliance. Business sources, along with Rock Well being, have mentioned that know-how can mitigate factors spherical shopper habits and gaps in remedy.

Within the approaching years, we’re going to seemingly see:

Elevated normalization of digital or app-based packages as the standard of care. 

With practically all of individuals not receiving evidence-based treatments and empirically supported packages, 40-60% of those who get hold of remedy for SUD the least bit will relapse. Tech-centric choices that rely on evidence-based packages allow for frequent data seize, affected individual engagement and elevated adherence.

Sufferers are increasingly acquainted and cozy with wearables and totally different linked apps to observe properly being, and well worth the empowerment that coincides with real-time and proper properly being metrics referring to a remedy plan. App-based choices can leverage steady data assortment and bodily metrics, enhancing the pliability of victims and suppliers to guage MAT dosage or indicators and modify care routine accordingly.

“Sure sufferers have interaction with know-how in a manner that’s an order of magnitude higher than in individual or through telephone,” McCann acknowledged, “Distant however synchronous care … offers alternatives to take care of sufferers between month-to-month visits with suppliers. It actually plugs the gaps.”

The necessity to implement practically pushed predominant and urgent care amidst COVID-19 has accelerated provider comfort with tech-enabled choices and affected individual willingness to acquire care on this methodology, considerably when care has been confirmed to be equal in top quality with elevated consolation.

On-demand and ongoing distant care, moderately than episodic provide.

Reasonably than guaranteeing steady observe up care and a seamless affected individual journey, the reactive nature of dependancy care historically manifests in bursts of intensive remedy with no ongoing assist.

Within the next few years, victims will demand the similar stage of on-demand entry to care that they experience with totally different app-based firms. Such fixed updates are preferable on the provider facet as successfully, since data-driven apps allow care managers and sponsors to observe and speak over the course of a affected individual’s journey in a scalable methodology.

“The current legislative adjustments permitting for us to ship companies solely over telemedicine makes it simpler for sufferers to have interaction, particularly for folks in rural America who weren’t in driving distance of the proper docs earlier than,” Grey acknowledged. “Now, persons are extra incentivized to have interaction if they will begin therapy from residence.”

The on-demand nature of telemedicine is complemented by distant testing, which further addresses issues with episodic care provide and noncompliance.

“DynamiCare does distant substance testing, which works effectively amidst COVID-19. The overwhelming majority of in-person suppliers don’t have a great way to do [that],” Eric Gastfriend, CEO of DynamiCare, acknowledged.

Provided that about two-thirds of victims in OUD packages do not get hold of right ongoing urine testing and that noncompliance stays an issue, the pliability to profit from know-how to spice up testing and compliance is significant.

“Making use of optimistic incentives with the proper paradigm of care improves each retention and outcomes,” Gastfriend acknowledged. He further recognized that “with MAT, we regularly see an enormous drop-off at six months, whereas you may need to be in remedy for not lower than a 12 months to significantly lower your potentialities of relapse.

“We are capable of’t utterly automate MAT with know-how, so we use contingency administration and motivational incentives as part of our digital care program designed to be used alongside remedy. It’s a hard sickness to beat, and also you may need to use the entire devices chances are you’ll.”

Decreased stigma and means of life disruption as a consequence of accessible digital choices.

One of many predominant alternate options for digital properly being is to chop again the associated stigma and perceived burden related to opioid abuse remedy, allowing individuals to hunt care with out drawing consideration to the issue or disrupting their every day routines. Apps can current on-ramps to further intensive or in-person interventions as wished, with the extra advantage of steering by way of the care course of.

Grey pointed to fashions and kinds that make victims be comfortable with remedy or being in restoration.

“Manufacturers like Hims and Roman actually deal with destigmatization,” he acknowledged.

Moreover, decreasing bodily and psychological obstacles to entry shall be very important in catering to subgroups akin to youths, pregnant ladies, veterans or rural populations which face nuanced and intensely explicit challenges.

“These people haven’t all the time been handled effectively by the well being system,” Corbin Petro, CEO and cofounder of Eleanor Well being, acknowledged. “They wish to be handled with respect, in addition to profit from the comfort of know-how.”

Eradicating the geographic roadblocks or the social repercussions of publicly trying to find care for dependancy by app-based choices will significantly improve adherence and reduce relapses.

Gupta well-known that he started the company after seeing energy ache victims combating problematic opioid use, plenty of whom “weren’t a inhabitants he would have related to dependancy, proving that anybody can get depending on opioids. If opioids are probably the greatest instruments to beat acute ache, we have to enhance therapy for dependancy. It must be handy, inexpensive and stigma free,” he acknowledged.

Employers bundling digital OUD firms in benefits to reinforce employee wellbeing and reduce full medical expense.

Employers can companion with digital remedy suppliers and/or properly being plans to produce anonymous and sponsored OUD educating, remedy assist and care navigation benefits for his or her staff, justifying the value of providing these devices to staff with the cost-savings from prevented in-person care or hospital visits for OUD/SUD related factors.

This has been a normal sample with psychological properly being and wellness benefits, with employers rising recognizing the cascading benefits of investing in employee’s psychological wellbeing. Adoption of OUD benefits for staff would equally improve workplace morale and retention.

Innovators have expressed enthusiasm for a future the place OUD packages are built-in into employer properly being plan benefits, nevertheless identify out a hesitancy to interact with dependancy and stigmatized circumstances.

“Some employers really need this. … Labor unions too, since [OUD] hurts productiveness,” Gupta acknowledged. “It’s a large downside in each business. We’d like to work extra with employers sooner or later.”

Grey shared associated sentiments.

“We positively see a path ahead with employers,” he acknowledged. “Blue collar employees can get hooked on opioids wanted for on-the-job accidents. Telecom or development industries are additionally potential companions.”

Petro recognized that COVID-19 may present a risk to reframe the issue, “Traditionally, employers have recognized it is a want, however haven’t wished to the touch it [due to stigma],” she acknowledged.

“[COVID-19] is an opportunity to differ the panorama and framing to increase employer curiosity. The pandemic has created nervousness and uncertainty, and loads of are using substances to handle, most likely leading to misuse. This idea of treating these with ‘rising threat’ of substance misuse resonates further with employers [more than treating ‘addicts’].”

Payers shifting in route of value-based outcomes for OUD packages, with digitally enabled firms to observe compliance and incentivize retention.

Given issues with compliance and retention referring to OUD remedy packages, significantly when menace of relapse is significantly lowered after one 12 months of remedy, it is vital that value-based care preparations incentivize long-term restoration and lowered overdose readmissions or relapses.

Eleanor Well being champions value-based care, which their CEO Petro acknowledged is “about effectivity of useful resource use.” They’ve designed a service that could possibly be a “longitudinal mannequin and fee construction that incentivizes retaining sufferers” along with every digital and in-person care to deal with all types of obstacles.

“We strive to not consider sufferers based mostly on black-and-white measures like damaging urine drug screens,” she stated, “since this incentivizes cherry choosing of sufferers additional alongside in restoration and does not acknowledge the influence of enhancements in substance misuse, like we do in different power circumstances.”

She well-known that they significantly try and steer clear of fee-for-service reimbursement, which incentivizes relapse over restoration, and have been “pleasantly shocked on the handful of payers who wish to transfer into the value-based care house for psychological well being and substance use therapy.”

Alongside the vein of incentivizing longitudinal involvement and prolonged engagement, DynamiCare presents a digital properly being program that enhances remedy, with CEO Eric Gastfriend noting that “getting main payers to announce partnerships with incentive-based dependancy therapy packages is a serious breakthrough for the sector” and has even resulted in additional NIH funding for dependancy remedy evaluation and trials.

Gastfriend added that it has found success in modeling itself after avid gamers like Omada, combining know-how, {{hardware}} and coaching.

Massive techs partnering with further “conventional” healthcare firms to extend entry to firms and improve provide of digital OUD remedy selections.

Whereas there was a serious uptick in digital train inside the dependancy home, with startups focused on neurological circumstances (along with SUD) elevating over $193M in enterprise capital funding in 2018 alone, gaps in entry to know-how pushed by socioeconomic standing, geographic obstacles and an absence of historic partnerships between Web and broadband suppliers and healthcare firms have prevented adoption.

A key barrier to broadly implementing telemedicine or telepsychiatry choices for OUD lies in an absence of connectivity for rural communities, which is increasingly prime of ideas given the 2019-2020 COVID-19 pandemic and the need to extend Web entry for telehealth further broadly.

Even earlier to the pandemic, Web service suppliers, along with these offering {{hardware}} and software program program elements, have grow to be increasingly very important and unlikely avid gamers inside the digital transformation for OUD care.

In latest instances, Microsoft has been working to hold broadband connectivity to some million rural People by their Airband Initiative, largely pushed by the need for entry to telehealth and digital behavioral VA firms. Equally, AmWell, Anthem and Samsung America have partnered to extend entry for Anthem members to the Samsung Well being app and AmWell’s on-line devices.

Well being tech firms have expressed enthusiasm for the pliability and willingness of victims to interact with tech.

“A big share of sufferers are Medicaid and are surprisingly tech literate. Most sufferers do have their very own good telephone with authorities help packages,” Pear Therapeutics’ McCann acknowledged.

Since many victims lack sufficient service or cell data, Pear has constructed its selections to “perform with knowledge caching so sufferers can use WiFi at a retailer or espresso store to obtain content material to make use of offline,” he acknowledged. “I really haven’t seen smartphone fluency and availability to be [much of a] downside, since we don’t require the identical video streaming you’d want for a telemedicine encounter.”

Grey well-known that the majority of their victims already have entry to the required know-how, since their workforce members get victims from web sites like Fb. That is basically because of they want to cope with these going by way of withdrawal, the “80% not getting handled earlier than they get to the ER, … in order that we will make the [pain] of withdrawal higher,” he acknowledged.

When requested about collaboration all through the properly being and tech spectrum, Grey recognized a risk for digital properly being and telemedicine firms to companion all by the strategy with a corporation like Axial Healthcare that identifies victims at risk by way of work with insurance coverage protection firms.

“There are such a lot of gamers that the method requires participation from payers, suppliers, [and] employers … from a shopper perspective. It must be slender, however on the again finish a labyrinth of stakeholders is important to make the method work,” he acknowledged.

Nonetheless, there are some vital obstacles and risks to consider in delicate of the fairly just a few benefits stemming from telehealth interventions:

Not all care is also suited to digital provide.

Whereas some firms have seen no distinction in outcomes with 100% digital care compared with in-person, others phrase that know-how is simply not a one-size-fits-all decision.

“After guidelines had been relaxed, and we moved to utterly digital care, I was pleasantly shocked to see no distinction in outcomes,” Bicycle’s Gupta acknowledged. “We are able to present a extra handy, well timed service. It’s like a same-day pressing take care of folks experiencing opioid withdrawal and/or problematic opioid use. That is massively useful for individuals who would in any other case find yourself within the ER.”

He did phrase that it may probably “carry down” the extent of care, as a result of the employees has to “refer extra folks to increased ranges of care, and discharge folks to verify they will safely obtain care” if digital care gained’t be environment friendly.

Equally, Petro praised the pliability to produce similar day entry, nevertheless acknowledged that “… we’re agnostic to how a affected individual engages with us. … We have to be multimodal. We shall be 100% digital, nevertheless we think about in a flexible custom-made technique to fulfill victims the place they are and, overwhelmingly, our victims want a hybrid combination of interactions – every in-person and digital.

“Some victims don’t have entry to broadband {or] devices that may be utilized for telemedicine, or uncover the in-person connections to be very important. From a scientific perspective, there are explicit ranges of acuity that we’d want to cope with in particular person.”

“Gate-keeping” obstacles and coordination of care factors nonetheless exist, limiting applicability of these devices.

Even when digital devices can permit further regular care, this does not settle the issue of victims failing to enter into the remedy funnel inside the first place. Some 90% of people that need remedy for dependancy do not search it out. Whereas many digitally enabled choices circumvent obstacles to remedy, they often require an entry stage from a payer, provider or employer.

The unemployed and uninsured couldn’t have the power to profit from the digital platforms designed to alleviate the exact obstacles they face. Moreover, populations affected by comorbidities akin to psychological or energy illness require intensive coordination with totally different specialists.

This care coordination is troublesome to understand due every to the lapses in care stemming from the episodic nature of overdose-related remedy and the necessity for privateness and anonymity. If totally different suppliers are unaware of the affected individual’s SUD/OUD remedy, whether it is carried out in “personal” by a self-serve app, then the affected individual is also missing out on benefits from further coordinated care.

As such, digital devices may initially be further useful significantly to triage victims trying to find additional care, or for long run distant care for these requiring a lot much less intensive intervention. Additional, regulatory complexity and issues with reimbursement further exacerbate logistical hurdles with OUD remedy.

“It is a house the place payers transfer slowly as a method of value avoidance, whereas sufferers face stigma,” McCann acknowledged.

Gupta recognized, “We are able to’t actually present efficient behavioral healthcare once we get shoehorned into medical. We get the identical reimbursement as a PCP go to, which doesn’t account for the complexity of [OUD].”

DynamiCare’s Gastfriend agreed that the issue referring to digital properly being pertains to reimbursement.

“There are digital formularies coming into existence, but it surely’s an open query,” he acknowledged.

He recognized that it’s an issue to be adjoining to, nevertheless separate from, telemedicine, the place there is a greater understanding of reimbursement necessities.

“Telemed entails taking scientific paradigms and doing this over the telephone or video, so at its core the payer is reimbursing companies much like what would possibly occur in individual,” Gastfriend acknowledged. “Digital well being focuses on automating evidence-based finest practices, and there isn’t all the time a CPT code.”

Michael Zubkoff, an award-winning Tuck College of Enterprise professor and Director of the MD-MBA Program at Dartmouth, agreed that “the advantages of telehealth have been proven throughout COVID-19, however the query is the stickiness of reimbursement,” further reinforcing the intricate regulatory setting and gatekeeping obstacles coping with progressive OUD care.

Within the approaching weeks and months, changes to the regulatory setting and relative ease of adoption for digital devices, considerably for these unemployed or uninsured, will largely determine how shortly on-demand and digitally enabled OUD remedy will grow to be the standard of care.

Alexandra Mullin is an MBA candidate on the Tuck College of Enterprise at Dartmouth and a Flare Capital Scholar. Previous to Tuck, Alexandra labored at Ahead, a predominant care startup in San Francisco. Earlier than turning into a member of the workforce at Ahead, she labored as a life sciences advertising and marketing guide at Navigant. Following graduation, she plans to hitch the Enterprise Technique workforce at CVS Well being.

Ian Chiang is a principal at Flare Capital Companions, a healthcare know-how and services-focused VC company. Previous to turning into a member of Flare, he was the SVP of product and innovation and a founding member of CareAllies, Cigna’s family of multi-payer provider firms, inhabitants properly being administration, value-based care enablement and home-based care firms. Beforehand, he was a digital properly being entrepreneur and a former administration advertising and marketing guide at McKinsey & Firm.



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