In a letter, the American Hospital Association (AHA) requested that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) clarify future telehealth regulations for prescribing controlled substances and offer suggestions for an interim plan on behalf of its nearly 5,000 member hospitals, health systems, and other healthcare organizations.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some policies forbade the use of telehealth for specific medical procedures. For instance, the Ryan Haight Act of 2008 changed the Controlled Substance Act to make it impossible for doctors to prescribe controlled narcotics via telemedicine without first seeing a patient in person. The statute specified that prior to virtual prescription of restricted medications, doctors must complete in-person examinations. However, the waivers implemented during the pandemic public health emergency (PHE) enabled exceptions to the in-person visit requirement. The AHA stated that during the pandemic, the flexibilities supported patients in a number of ways, including permitting the delivery of controlled substance prescriptions via telemedicine and allowing doctors to use telephone assessments to begin prescribing buprenorphine.
The AHA wrote a letter to the DEA in order to learn more about their plans for the future of these telehealth flexibilities. The Ryan Haight Act, which was passed about 14 years ago, mandated that organizations produce regulations outlining the specific registration procedure for telehealth in order to exempt the in-person requirement. The SUPPORT Act strengthened this policy three years ago. However, providers are still waiting for instructions due to a fear that they won’t be able to continue treating patients after the COVID-19 PHE expires. As a result, the AHA has requested that the DEA present draft regulations for the special registration for telemedicine procedure, adding that extra time would be beneficial for reallocating resources to address problems including staffing shortages, provider burnout, and budgetary restrictions. In addition, the DEA was asked in the letter to offer a temporary strategy to promote patient continuity of care before the COVID-19 PHE expired and before the special registration for telemedicine final rules went into effect.
Finally, the letter suggests that the DEA support patients who started an episode of care between the conclusion of the COVID-19 PHE and the institution of the final rules for special registration for telemedicine. AHA has requested individuals who may have questions concerning their letter to contact their senior associate director of policy, Jennifer Holloman.