Approximately 115 people in the United States die every day due to opioid overdoses, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Millions of others struggle with life-threatening substance abuse and addiction. With the healthcare system struggling to keep up with this epidemic, a new weapon is emerging in the fight: telemedicine.
Here’s a closer look at the relatively new world of telemedicine, along with where it fits into addiction treatment.
What Is Telemedicine?
Dubbed “the future of healthcare,” telemedicine, AKA telehealth, is defined by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) as “the remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology.” It comprises a broad range of services delivered via a multitude of channels, including telephone, internet, wireless, and satellite.
Despite its comparative newness, telemedicine is growing at a rapid pace. Currently, there are more than 3,500 service sites within approximately 200 telemedicine networks. “Over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. Around the world, millions of patients use telemedicine to monitor their vital signs, remain healthy and out of hospitals and emergency rooms. Consumers and physicians download health and wellness applications for use on their cell phones” reveals ATA.
Telemedicine and Addiction Treatment
Recently, experts have been lauding the potential of telemedicine for treating people with substance abuse disorders and addiction issues. While some fear that telemedicine may be unable to keep up, health officials attest to its vast potential. For example, telemedicine can be used to deploy and remotely manage many proven treatments, including effective strategies like behavioral health therapy and remote counseling.
Not only that, but many people insist that the partnership opportunities facilitated by telehealth — particularly for patients in remote and/or underserved areas who may not have access to the treatment they need — can improve outcomes. Proposes the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), “Collaboration among multiple providers and organizations that address public health issues associated with opioid abuse are crucial. When diagnosing and treating opioid abuse, skilled practitioners (located remotely) can provide an array of integrated patient services using telehealth technology.”
In short, telehealth removes barriers to treatment while positioning patients to receive the medications they need, make important connections, and learn relapse-prevent skills.
The smartphone, in particular, is being positioned as the “ideal tool” due to its capacity to provide both individual treatment and population health programs. Says mHealth Intelligence, “Since the smartphone rarely leaves the user’s side, it has significant value as a real-time communication device. Healthcare providers can push out messages offering support or information via text, SMS or e-mail to large groups at any time. They can also personalize the message for individual users, tying information to one’s habits, location or medical record.”
In addition to supporting addiction recovery, telemedicine can also be used to address mental health concerns, which are often linked with substance abuse issues, thereby amplifying its value.
It is for these many reasons that telehealth is expected to become even more prevalent in the battle against the addiction epidemic. Insists one licensed clinical social worker, “Addiction is a disease of isolation, after all. Its polar opposite is not sobriety but connection, which is the very thing that telehealth advances can exponentially multiply.”
If you are suffering from substance abuse and addiction problems, it’s important to know that help is available — wherever you are. Contact us at Harris House to learn about our comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs.