Free video-enabled tablets led to increases in substance use treatment for Veterans Health Administration patients diagnosed with substance use disorder.
Greater adoption of telehealth has the potential to increase efficiency, access to care, and equity across the health care system, including for individuals with substance use disorder (SUD). However, lack of access to technology among patients has been identified as a significant barrier to delivering telehealth care. This study, undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic, examines how a free video-enabled tablet program impacted the utilization of substance use disorder (SUD) care among veterans diagnosed with SUD.
The authors compared changes in the frequency of psychotherapy, group therapy, and individual outpatient visits across all modalities of care (video, phone, and in-person) between approximately 21,684 patients with SUD who received free video-enabled telehealth tablets and 267,873 patients with SUD who did not receive tablets. After controlling for patient demographic characteristics and health status, the distribution of free tablets was associated with average yearly increases of 3.5 video psychotherapy visits and 2 psychotherapy visits across all modalities of care. More modest increases in group therapy and individual outpatient visits were also reported.
The significant adoption of video SUD visits by tablet-recipients suggests that telehealth is a viable alternative to in-person care for SUD patients when technological barriers are mitigated. Using telehealth to ensure continuity of care was especially critical during the study’s evaluation period, when COVID-19 mitigation measures limited in-person treatment. The significant overall increases in both telehealth and in-person SUD visits suggests that telehealth can be a useful tool to increase access to care among SUD patients, regardless of any restrictions on in-person care.