A qualitative study of patient experiences with telemedicine opioid use disorder treatment during COVID-19

Rachel Lockard, Kelsey C. Priest, Jessica Gregg, Bradley M. Buchheit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: The drug-related overdose crisis worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent drug policy changes to increase access to medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD) during COVID-19 shifted some outpatient MOUD treatment into virtual settings to reduce the demand for in-person care. The objective of this study was to qualitatively explore what is gained and lost in virtual patient encounters for patients with opioid use disorder at a low-threshold, addiction treatment clinic that offers buprenorphine and harm reduction services. Methods: Patients were included in this study if they received care at the Harm Reduction and BRidges to Care (HRBR) clinic and utilized virtual visits between November 2019 and March 2021. The study was conceptualized using a health care access framework and prior studies of telemedicine acceptability. Semi-structured interviews were completed between March and April 2021. Interviews were dual-coded and analyzed using directed content analysis. Results: Nineteen interviews were conducted. The sample was predominantly White (84%) and stably housed (79%) with comparable gender (male, 53%) and employment status (employed, 42%). The majority (63%) of patients preferred virtual visits compared to in-person visits (16%) or a combination of access to both (21%). Two overarching tandem domains emerged: availability-accommodation and acceptability-appropriateness. Availability-accommodation reflected participants’ desires for immediate services and reduced transportation and work or caregiving scheduling barriers, which was facilitated by virtual visits. The acceptable-appropriate domain articulated how participants felt connected to their providers, whether through in-person interactions or the mutual trust experienced during virtual visits. Conclusions: Virtual visits were perceived by participants as a valuable and critical option for accessing treatment for OUD. While many participants preferred virtual visits, some favored face-to-face visits due to relational and physical interactions with providers. Participants desired flexibility and the ability to have a choice of treatment modality depending on their needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1150-1157
Number of pages8
JournalSubstance Abuse
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Telemedicine
  • buprenorphine
  • opioid use disorder
  • qualitative research
  • substance use disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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