Virtual opioid agonist treatment: Alberta’s virtual opioid dependency program and outcomes
Virtually delivered healthcare (telehealth, telemedicine) has the potential to reduce gaps in access to opioid agonist therapy (OAT). Barriers to accessing OAT such as lack of transportation, in-person induction requirements, employment demands and limited childcare options reduce treatment opportunities for clients. A completely virtual model of care has been developed in Alberta, Canada. This paper introduces the unique virtual clinic model and describes outcomes from that model.
A retrospective chart review was conducted using datasets within existing electronic health records and databases from Alberta’s Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP). Outcome data were extracted at admission to ongoing care by Case Management within the VODP and at 3, 6 and 12 months for the duration of treatment. Utilization trends over three years were analyzed, including admissions, discharges and active client information. Data regarding clinical outcomes for clients engaged in ongoing care with the VODP were aggregated for analysis over four time periods, including treatment retention rates at 6 and 12 months.
A total of 440 client records were included in the study sample. Descriptive analysis showed rapid growth in utilization over three fiscal years. Despite rapid growth in utilization, median wait days for treatment decreased from 6 to 0 days with the initiation of a Same Day Start service to support low barrier immediate access to treatment. Treatment retention rates for clients in ongoing care were comparable to published reports, with 90% of the study sample remaining in treatment over 6 months, and 58% showing retention over 12 months. Clients reported high levels of satisfaction (90%) and outcomes reflected reductions in drug use and overdose as well as improved social functioning.
The VODP model demonstrated high levels of client satisfaction, rapid growth in utilization and positive preliminary clinical outcomes. Entirely virtual delivery of opioid agonist therapy is a promising option to facilitate access to evidence based treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) in the context of a fentanyl overdose crisis, particularly for individuals living in rural or underserved areas.