Submitted to Congress in early August, the report specifically examined the use of telehealth for pediatric patients in need of mental health and substance use services
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C — According to a new report by RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) in consultation with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), providers and patients believe that telehealth services are at least comparable in quality to face-to-face care, and in some cases better quality, but barriers to telehealth remain.
The report, submitted to Congress in early August, specifically examined the use of telehealth for pediatric patients in need of mental health and substance use services through state Medicaid programs. It found telehealth to be a promising solution, particularly for those with limited options for care.
The report was authored by RTI researchers Arnie Aldridge, Ph.D., Lissette Saavedra, Ph.D. and Saira Haque, Ph.D., who brought experience in substance use disorder treatment and economics, behavioral health promotion, and telehealth, respectively, to offer an interdisciplinary approach. They interviewed clinicians and health care administrators and conducted two in-person case studies as part of the report.
Stakeholders who were interviewed stressed the value of having a dedicated telehealth program coordinator to address barriers to care. They also suggested that initiatives to increase technology access and decrease costs could address barriers to telehealth services, in addition to offering specialized telehealth training to health care workers and patients. At the time, there was limited use of telehealth across the nation related to face-to-face service provision. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, results from this report can help providers and other end users navigate some of the barriers seasoned telehealth providers were facing.
“We’ve found that telehealth has become an essential and effective tool for children and younger people who need behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment,” said Haque, who leads RTI’s work in telehealth. “While best practices are still evolving, there are clear steps we can take to make the telehealth experience even more effective by investing in technology, trainings for clinical and administrative staff and expanding access to technology.”
The report supports continuing work by CMS to help states increase their use of Medicaid telehealth, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also adds to RTI’s research on telehealth. In May, Drs. Haque and Saavedra presented at the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit an expansion of this work with a focus on COVID-19-specific issues, including a review of telehealth policies amid COVID-19 that identified challenges specific to addiction telehealth treatment related to privacy and program implementation. Recently, Dr. Haque published a paper outlining items mental health professionals should consider for telehealth going forward.
To learn more, visit: www.rti.org/focus-area/telehealth.