States Improve Rural Access to Opioid Use Disorder Treatment

The National Governors Association (NGA) today announced that three states, MinnesotaSouth Dakota and Virginia, will participate in an NGA learning lab to help combat the opioid epidemic. The project will focus on using teleconsultation to expand treatment for opioid use disorder in rural and other underserved communities.

Teleconsultation can increase care capacity by allowing primary care providers to consult with specialists who have expertise in treating certain diseases and conditions, such as substance use disorder, by phone or videoconference.

States are looking to teleconsultation and telecommunication technology more broadly to enhance their health care delivery systems and expand access to high-quality care and treatment for many conditions, including opioid use disorder. Though teleconsultation makes use of telecommunications technology, it is different from telemedicine.

Through the project, states will develop and begin implementing strategic plans for a teleconsultation program that supports primary care providers treating patients with opioid use disorder in rural and underserved areas, which have been particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic. Recently the problem has grown as the rate of opioid misuse and overdose has spiked across the country, in turn increasing demand for scarce treatment resources.

Representatives from selected states will travel to the University of New Mexico to learn about Project ECHO’s Integrated Addiction and Psychiatry clinic. Project ECHO is a pioneering program that links expert specialist teams to primary care providers in underserved communities via teleconsultation.

NGA learning labs provide an opportunity for a small group of state teams to learn about the details of a state program that is successfully putting an innovative practice in place.