The lack of in person contact for physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic may be allowing for some injured workers to linger on cocktails of dangerous opioid medications.

For both the patient, and the insurance companies paying for the medications, this obviously causes major problems. From the patient's standpoint, long-term opiate use is both detrimental to the patient's recovery, and could spawn a dangerous spiral of addiction. For the insurance carrier, it may involve paying for a trip to rehab, or other complications associated with long-term opiate use.

Without face-to-face interaction between doctor and patient due to the pandemic, most prescribers were signing monthly prescriptions without being able to examine their patients. Although telemedicine has assisted somewhat with allowing physicians to interact more effectively with their injured worker patients, it still presents a challenge for doctors, who cannot examine somebody in person, or refer them to a pain management specialist where certain therapies can be utilized in the fight against addiction and long-term opiate use. 

As the article suggested, in the context of Utilization Review, physicians were seeing longer term use of opioid medications that would be addressed by a litany of different therapies, pre-pandemic. Carriers are trying to find ways to incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy and psychological treatment for addiction and long-term opiate use, into telehealth. However, challenges remain.

The news has been dominated by COVID-19, but the scourge of opiate addiction still plagues the practice of medicine, and the country as a whole. Hopefully insurance carriers and doctors alike, will find creative ways to combat these problems, as telehealth and telemedicine are incorporated into the regular practice of medicine, post pandemic. It will help both the patients who struggle with the opioid problem, and will be more cost-effective for insurance carriers, if they can keep their patients away from these dangerous drugs as much as they can.