Addiction, Health Alerts

How is COVID-19 Redefining Care Delivery for the SUD Population?

Digital Health Transformation and Alternative Delivery Models

Part one of a two part blog series on Care for Substance Use Disorder Populations during COVID-19.

Content provided by Jill S. Warrington, MD, PhD. Blog edited by Alexa De Vivo.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented changes globally, in our communities and in health care. Like a latex balloon that has been stretched and never bounces back to its original form, health care delivery will never be the same as we navigate through and past this emergent crisis.

The silver lining in this challenging global emergency has been the ingenuity and innovation across our country and our world. We have seen remarkable collaborations, accommodations and accelerated transformations.

Changes in health care delivery have spanned five domains of medical care. We have seen a transformation of digital health, ingenious alternatives to traditional care delivery models, adjustments in regulatory and payor strategies, an adoption of a population health approach to care and an increasing recognition of our patients’ unmet social and behavioral health needs. If progress continues in each of these domains, long-existing care gaps can be obliterated.

Digital health transformation and alternative delivery models are helping to pave the way for the future of healthcare, post COVID-19. While telehealth was being offered at most healthcare establishments in the pre-COVID-19 world, the spread of mandated stay at home orders prompted telehealth across the globe.

Large health systems such as Geisinger Health System and the Cleveland Clinic have reported a 5-10-fold increase in use of telehealth services (1). We’ve also witnessed adoption of novel strategies in surveillance and triage such as the use of Chat Bots to support patient symptom identification and facial scanners in hospitals to recognize fevers (1,2). Anecdotal reporting for the Substance Use Disorder (SUD) population suggests digital health solutions have reduced numbers of missed appointments (3).

Alternative delivery models were used before the introduction of COVID-19 but many health systems sped up the process of developing take home or remote methods for medical testing.

Prior to and in response to COVID-19, laboratory services were innovating in alternative care delivery models such as at-home blood draws (4), drone use in medical product delivery (5) and at home monitoring programs (6). Further development of these types of innovations will only be aided by COVID-19.

Part two of this blog series, “How is COVID-19 Redefining Care Delivery for the SUD Population?”, will discuss regulatory shifts and population health adaption. It will also go over recognition of unmet social and behavioral health needs.


1) Paddy Padmanabhan, 3-27-2020, How the COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping healthcare with technology, CIO. [last accessed, 5/5/2020].

2) Greg Nichols, 3-27-2020, Coronavirus: Business and technology in a Pandemic. Robotics., [last accessed, 5/5/2020].

(3) Mindy Miller, personal communication.

(4),  [last accessed, 5/5/2020].

(5) Paavola A. 6 things to know about WakeMed’s drone delivery program. 2-24-2019. Becker’s Hospital Review,  [last accessed, 5/5/2020].

(6) American Society of Addiction Medicine, COVID-19 Adjusting drug testing protocols. 4-29-2020., [last accessed, 5/5/2020].

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