Objectives: To learn how preferences and practices regarding telehealth have evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic for physicians who provide opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment.
Study design: Publicly registered physicians who provide OUD treatment were surveyed on their current and retrospective use of telehealth and how their perception of telehealth effectiveness and policy preferences have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic as telehealth regulations were loosened throughout the country.
Methods: The primary survey data were collected in July 2020 leveraging administrative contact information for the population of publicly listed buprenorphine-prescribing physicians in the United States. A total of 1141 physicians received the survey and consented to participate.
Results: Many surveyed physicians used telehealth for the first time during the early COVID-19 era (29% pre-COVID-19 use rate increased to 66%). Most respondents found telehealth to be more effective than expected (54% vs 16% who found it less effective), 85% were in favor of the temporary telehealth flexibility being permanently extended, and 77% would be likely to use telehealth after the COVID-19 pandemic, regulations permitting. Imputation exercises that leverage the linked survey and administrative data suggest that the findings are unlikely to be driven by nonrandom survey participation.
Conclusions: Physicians were asked about their OUD telehealth policy preferences. Findings suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic increased physician respondent use of telehealth technology, and this has positively shifted their perceptions of effectiveness. Respondents overwhelmingly report interest in post-COVID-19 pandemic telehealth use and support for proposed legislation to loosen telehealth restrictions.