On October 6, 2023, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that the telehealth flexibility waiver, which allows healthcare providers to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine without an in-person patient visit, would be extended through December 31, 2024. The telehealth waiver was initially issued in March 2020 during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) and was set to expire on November 11, 2023. The DEA anticipates releasing a final rule by the Fall of 2024.
The DEA's decision to further extend telehealth capabilities comes in response to the evolving needs of patients, healthcare providers, and the healthcare system at large. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of telehealth to provide continuous medical care while minimizing the risk of viral transmission. The DEA extension follows an earlier temporary rule issued in May 2023, which authorized all DEA-registered practitioners to prescribe schedule II-V controlled medications via telemedicine until November 11, 2024, without a previous in-person visit if the patient had an established relationship with the provider prior to November 11, 2023. The new extension allows providers to prescribe schedule II-V medications via telemedicine regardless of when the practitioner-patient relationship was established.
The in-person regulation was originally established in 2008 through the Ryan Haight Act, which required a telemedicine provider to evaluate and examine a patient in person prior to prescribing a controlled substance. The controlled substance prescribing flexibilities were enacted in March 2020 in response to the PHE, which allowed for prescribing of controlled substances without a required in-person evaluation and visit.
One of the most significant advantages of the DEA's telehealth flexibility is improved patient access to care, especially for those in remote or underserved areas. Patients who were previously unable to access certain treatments and medications due to geographic or logistical constraints can now benefit from telehealth services. This shift is expected to reduce healthcare disparities and ensure that all patients receive the care they need.
Andie Tena is CAP’s Assistant Vice President of Practice Management Services. Questions or comments related
to this column should be directed to ATena@CAPphysicians.com.