Early data published by Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Butler Center for Research suggests that virtual intensive outpatient services have been as effective as on-site IOP treatment, a promising development as providers have moved many operations to virtual platforms as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hazelden Betty Ford began piloting virtual outpatient modalities in mid-2019, and then accelerated implementation in response to the pandemic, moving the majority of its intensive outpatient services to virtual. The Butler Center monitors short- and long-term patient outcomes from virtual services. In a new report, which includes data from one- and three-month outcomes, the center found no differences across sex, race, employment or education between IOP groups that either: started with in-person treatment and transitioned to virtual, started and remained in-person, or were virtual from the outset of treatment.
The researchers found that older patients may have struggled with the transition from in-person to virtual IOP care, but that the treatment modality itself did not present a reduction in quality of care.
Among the study’s other findings:
- Virtual-only patients attended more sessions than in-person-only patients.
- Virtual IOP and patients who transitioned from in-person to virtual discharged against medical advice at lower rates than in-person patients.
- Patients who transitioned did not report the virtual platform to be more difficult than those who were exclusively virtual.
“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,” Quyen Ngo, PhD, Butler Center for Research executive director, said in a news release announcing the findings.