Virtual Outpatient Addiction Care Produces Promising Outcomes

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation shares early data

CENTER CITY (Oct. 8, 2020) – In late March, the flurry of everyday life quieted to the hum of laptops and the vibration of a phone, and addiction care—like so much else—found a new path forward. Pandemic restrictions prompted a pivot from on-site intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment to 100% virtual IOP, affecting thousands of patients across the country. Today, promising early data from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Butler Center for Research indicate that virtual IOP services appear—thus far—to be “as effective” as on-site IOP treatment, across differences in gender, race, employment and education.

As part of Hazelden Betty Ford’s routine healthcare operations, and in order to better understand what works in virtual services and for whom, the Butler Center for Research is monitoring and evaluating short- and long-term patient outcomes on an ongoing basis. In a new report of preliminary one- and three-month outcomes, the Butler Center’s research scientists say they have observed little to no difference between on-site and virtual IOP patients when it comes to:

  • reported cravings
  • depression symptoms
  • anxiety symptoms
  • sobriety
  • confidence in staying sober
  • mutual-aid support group attendance
  • psychological wellbeing
  • quality of life (mental or physical health)

In addition, virtual IOP patients have discharged “against medical advice” at a significantly lower rate than on-site IOP patients—generally a good indicator of positive long-term outcomes.

“If these preliminary results hold long-term, we think it will bode well for expanded access and care-design options far into the future for the millions who struggle with access to quality care for substance use and mental health issues,” said Quyen Ngo, PhD, executive director of the Butler Center for Research.

Dr. Ngo and her team compared and contrasted outcomes for three groups of IOP patients: 1) a virtual group; 2) a group that started on-site and then transitioned to virtual; and 3) a comparison group that had previously participated on-site only. They found that older patients may have had more difficulty making the transition to virtual care; however, some of the data also suggested that the transition itself may have been a bigger factor than the treatment modality. Age-related outcome differences will be further explored in subsequent data analyses.

“The Butler Center will continue to collect, evaluate and share virtual IOP data publicly to help inform the addiction treatment industry, insurance companies and other stakeholders about this promising delivery model, which is expanding quickly but requires more study to understand what works and what does not,” said Dr. Ngo.

In March, Hazelden Betty Ford, the largest nonprofit addiction treatment provider, switched all of its patients nationwide who were attending on-site outpatient group therapy to its RecoveryGo virtual platform. It had been piloting and planning for a year to launch virtual IOP services and, when the pandemic hit, was able to quickly accelerate and expand the planned launch and begin monitoring patients shortly thereafter.

Hazelden Betty Ford now offers virtual outpatient care to people throughout Minnesota, California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey and Missouri, and will soon expand to Colorado and Wisconsin, followed by additional states in the coming months. The longtime industry leader also provides a variety of RecoveryGo resources and services that are available nationwide, including a free one-day virtual Family Program; a free one-day Spanish-language Family Program; a free virtual Children’s Program for kids ages 7 to 12 whose families have been affected by addiction; and many digital recovery support tools such as mobile apps, podcasts and an online peer community.

For more on Hazelden Betty Ford’s virtual IOP outcomes, read the new Butler Center for Research Update at www.hazeldenbettyford.org/education/bcr/addiction-research.

About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation’s leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and co-occurring mental health treatment for adults and youth, the Foundation has 17 locations nationwide, with expansive on-site and telehealth solutions and a network of collaborators throughout health care. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction. Learn more at www.HazeldenBettyFord.org and on Twitter @hazldnbettyford

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