As health care providers, we frequently face challenges as we develop plans of care for our patients. These difficulties are often things beyond our control, such as social and economic factors. It is not often a global pandemic comes along and upends an entire health care delivery system.

It is easy to point to the many ways the pandemic forced us to adapt in our personal lives over the past year: making do with toilet paper shortages, social isolation, navigating virtual school, working from home and more. However, for CleanSlate, as an organization dedicated to treating patients with substance use disorder, there was no room for trial and error when it came to continuing patient care.

Adjusting our Care Delivery Model

When COVID-19 began rapidly spreading across the U.S., decisions were quickly made to limit in-person contact to reduce the likelihood of virus transmission. For CleanSlate, this meant we had to rethink our primarily in-person patient visit model and shift resources to accommodate virtual care. This resulted in the temporary consolidation of some of our centers. While the executive team worked to address needed operational adjustments, our provider team worked diligently to maintain contact with patients and ensure continuity of care.

In the early days of the pandemic, our providers connected with patients via virtual, telephone and in-person appointments as appropriate. Regional and local teams worked to set up virtual kiosks in centers so patients without access to reliable internet or phone connections could continue care. CleanSlate pivoted quickly to a virtual model of care, ensuring essential staff who had to be on-site for laboratory services were equipped with the appropriate protection, providers had access to needed technology, and patients had options to continue their recovery.

Treating a Changing Patient Population

Once the infrastructure was in place, our ability to see patients virtually made for a seamless care experience. Providers found they could care for patients we might not have otherwise had an opportunity to treat, such as those in more rural areas or with comorbidities who would have been unable to travel for in-person care during the pandemic.

Now that in-person treatment is resuming in many of the communities we serve, we are eager to see our patients face to face again. The standards we’ve adopted for virtual care will continue to allow specialized care for substance use disorder in ways not possible before the pandemic. This innovative care delivery model will open doors to treatment that we are just beginning to explore.

There are countless things from the past year I’d rather not experience again. When reflecting on the silver linings that have come about as a result of the pandemic, however, strengthening our provider network through the successful implementation of telemedicine rises to the top. Our CleanSlate providers who met the challenges of the last year together will always have a strong connection because of our shared experience, and new providers who join our organization will be joining a stronger, more unified CleanSlate than ever before.

James Meacham M.D.