Virtually delivered healthcare (telehealth, telemedicine) can reduce gaps in access to opioid agonist therapy (OAT) as well as wait times to initiate treatment. Barriers such as lack of transportation, in-person initiation requirements, employment demands and limited childcare options reduce treatment opportunities for clients. The Virtual Opioid Dependency Program (VODP) is a service delivered completely by virtual means. The program began in 2017 to support the provision of OAT using methadone and buprenorphine/naloxone in Central Alberta. Assessment and treatment are provided virtually in collaboration with existing health providers including laboratories for urine drug screening, mental health supports and pharmacies for supervised dosing to reduce barriers to implementation and eliminate duplication of services. Clients may self-refer by toll-free number or can be referred from almost any community agency, healthcare organization or support service. In 2019 the VODP expanded from supporting central Alberta to serving clients anywhere in Alberta. Two new service teams were added: the Same Day (emergency) Start Service and the Transitional Treatment Service. The Same Day (emergency) Start service operates alongside the Transitional Treatment Service and expanded VODP team to ensure that any Albertan using opioids is able to access same-day treatment, reducing or eliminating delays in initiating treatment and engaging clients when and where they are in need. The goal of this initiative was the implementation of a feasible and sustainable virtual OAT clinic model that was acceptable to clients, and to demonstrate that the VODP clinic model supports positive treatment outcomes.
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