When primary care physician Dr. Karen Smith noticed that opioid abuse rates were skyrocketing in her community of Raeford, North Carolina, she decided to do something about it: She partnered with a behavioral health agency to roll out a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program within the four walls of her practice.
Here’s how it worked: Smith screened patients for opioid abuse during the intake process. When she identified patients who could benefit from MAT, she used a warm handoff to connect them with a psychiatrist who could treat them on-site. This immediate access was a significant benefit for patients in an impoverished community where travel wasn’t easy.
Although Smith could have charged rent for the office space the psychiatrist used, she did not because she was reaping other financial benefits related to her performance in an Accountable Care Organization.
“We were actually seeing improved outcomes and a return on the back end,” she says. “We were controlling the total cost of care for those individuals. The amount we would charge for rent would be nowhere near what we would see in terms of cost control.”
When COVID-19 struck, the MAT program shifted from in-person visits to telehealth. “Patients would have otherwise fallen through the cracks,” Smith says. “With telehealth, we were able to maintain services.”