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Ketamine telehealth became popular during the pandemic when in-office visits were restricted or unavailable for months. Patients were able to receive a prescription for Ketamine treatment for use in their own homes without in-person supervision and care from their providers.
Traditionally, Ketamine treatment was closely monitored by a qualified healthcare professional in an in-office setting after an in-person exam, as Ketamine is a Schedule III drug. COVID-19 changed these laws, allowing practitioners to use telehealth to communicate with patients and prescribe Ketamine for those struggling with depression and anxiety; mental health concerns were rising during the nationwide lockdown. Ketamine telehealth provides much-needed treatment for individuals with treatment-resistant depression and anxiety. Although face-to-face supervision was unavailable, practitioners still used audio and video communication to ensure patient compliance with treatment protocols and patient safety.
Now that the pandemic is subsiding, there are concerns about whether it is safe to continue prescribing this potent, mind-altering drug for in-home use by patients. Specifically, concerns related to the training of psychedelic guides, follow-ups, and misleading costs of Ketamine telehealth are some of the issues associated with this treatment.
Off-Label Use of the Drug
Ketamine for depression and anxiety is considered an off-label use, as the drug is FDA approved as an anesthetic. Research is ongoing regarding how Ketamine functions to alleviate depression and anxiety symptoms, specifically its mechanism of action on the glutamate pathways in the brain and its potential effect on opioid receptors. For example, in an October 2022 study, researcher Thomas Hull and colleagues reported that at-home, sublingual ketamine telehealth is a safe and effective treatment for moderate to severe anxiety and depression.
Telehealth service companies offer an alternative to the illegally available ketamine street drug readily available for recreational purposes. Despite these concerns, it can still be argued that Ketamine telehealth was used during the pandemic—and continues to be used to date—without any reports of serious concerns or issues of patient safety. Healthcare providers are still monitoring the treatment closely; only the supervision is being conducted virtually.
The Future of Ketamine Telehealth
In March 2022, the Consolidated Appropriations Act was extended by Congress, allowing telehealth to continue until July 2022. The Senate then received the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act. If this Act is approved, telehealth benefits will continue until December 31, 2024. Telehealth treatment, including Ketamine telehealth, will be unknown in 2025, but patients and providers will still be able to utilize this service if the legislation is approved. The third telehealth-related bill, the Telehealth Extension and Evaluation Act, introduced in February 2022, is also aimed at extending telehealth services along with the exemptions the DEA allowed related to healthcare providers prescribing medication out of state. This provision would allow healthcare providers the flexibility to treat patients using Ketamine telehealth across state lines.
Supporters of Ketamine telehealth believe that with the legislation currently pending approval, Ketamine telehealth will continue for at least the next few years.
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