While the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of the value of telehealth services, this technology — and its usefulness — is not new. In fact, many professional medical societies endorse telehealth and its potential to improve patient outcomes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Wondering about the role of telehealth in addiction treatment? Here’s a closer look at what you need to know if you or someone you love is considering this increasingly popular healthcare delivery model for the treatment of a substance use disorder.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is defined by the Health Resources Services Administration as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”
Utilizing a number of technologies, including videoconferencing, the internet, streaming media, and wireless communications, telehealth differs from telemedicine in that it comprises a broader scope of remote healthcare services.
The benefits of telehealth are manifold, and include the following:
- eliminating transportation time and costs
- limiting the need for time off from work
- eliminating child care and elder care issues
- improving on-demand options
- easier access to specialists
- less chance of catching new illnesses
- less time in waiting rooms
- better health outcomes for patients
In sum, telehealth can help providers deliver better and more patient-centered health care by reaching patients wherever they are.
Telehealth and Addiction Treatment
Certainly, the benefits of telehealth are hard to deny. However, are they applicable within the context of addiction treatment?
The answer is “yes,” according to national telehealth provider Health Recovery Solutions (HRS). Specifically, “studies show that telehealth has the potential to transform and improve the way we rehabilitate substance abuse patients and can help to reduce the number of people impacted by the opioid crisis in the United States,” explains HRS.
There is a catch, however. Many addiction recovery programs haven’t yet adopted and implemented telehealth technologies. In fact, the incorporation of telemedicine technologies into addiction treatment was found to be less than one percent. This is especially noteworthy given that patients in substance abuse treatment facilities have shown significant interest in telehealth. For example, while more than 54 percent of patients expressed high levels of interest in video-based therapy, just 20 percent of facilities actually offer teletherapy. On average, according to HRS, “the difference between high patient interest and the use of technology was 37.32 percent.”
Despite this gap, the American Society of Addiction Medicine is firm in its assertion that there are numerous benefits associated with using telehealth — especially during the pandemic — which “apply across the continuum of addiction services including outpatient, residential and Opioid Treatment Services (OTP and OBOT).”
As the opioid epidemic continues to rage, there are shortages of counseling and addiction services in certain areas of the country. As such, patients often struggle to get the help and support they desperately need. Telemedicine eliminates this barrier to care by improving access to support services.
If you’re worried about the lack of face-to-face contact, meanwhile, experts say there’s little reason to be — especially when telehealth services are used to complement traditional services, not in replacement of.
“Telemedicine can be good for interventional communications as well as progress updates, especially via mobile devices. Many digital health programs based around addiction also have a behavioral health component that can act as remote therapy for patients and heighten the impact of in-office therapy,” says eVisit.
Another benefit of telehealth services that is especially relevant in addiction treatment settings? People struggling with substance use and abuse often feel a loss of control. Because of its comparatively autonomous nature, telehealth can be uniquely empowering for people in recovery.
“By using telemedicine, you’re talking to patients in their own environments, and that makes it easier for them to take charge and show initiative in their health decisions,” continues eVisit.
On a similar note, addiction treatment relies heavily on helping patients recognize unhealthy behavior patterns and replace them with healthier ones. By supporting the easy charting of behaviors and symptoms, telehealth has the potential to show patients how treatment is working. eVisit concludes, “When you base new, healthful habits around communication and connectivity, you’re showing patients the benefit of consistent communication. In other words, you’re displaying the benefits of telemedicine in real-time and encouraging patients to keep communication up!”
Addiction is a complex and multi-factored phenomenon. So is its treatment. While there are pros and cons to telehealth, experts agree that overall it can be an invaluable resource for patients and providers alike — especially when integrated with conventional addiction treatment. St. Louis drug rehab Harris House has been delivering targeted substance use programs for more than 50 years. Call us today to learn about admissions.