What’s your go-to Zoom background? A lush green space, minimalistic office setting, or your very own living room (we’re not judging if it’s a mess)?
Prior to 2020, Zoom and other video-technology platforms were a rarity. The Covid-19 pandemic brought a whole new world of technology into our lives, leading to a greater likelihood to take that interview remotely, work from the couch, and build the amount of athleisure in our closets.
While some may argue that the pandemic created a monster in terms of making us more addicted to our devices, increasingly isolated, and less likely to engage face-to-face, the world of telehealth has not only opened doors in the world of addiction treatment, but it has also actually increased retention of patients who are actively in treatment.
Let’s dive into the world of telemedicine and see how it has benefited the addiction treatment industry, what some of the challenges are, whether it’s the right treatment path for you, and more.
WHAT IS TELEMEDICINE?
So, what exactly is telemedicine? Simply talking to your doctor or treatment professional via a screen? Being able to stay in your pajamas without judgment? It’s actually so much more.
Telemedicine, more commonly referred to as telehealth, makes use of digital communications and various technologies such as smartphone applications, web-based software such as videoconferencing, telephone-based services, and texting to connect you to medical and mental healthcare professionals remotely instead of in-person.
In the context of addiction treatment, telemedicine refers to the use of telecommunications technology to deliver healthcare services remotely to individuals dealing with substance use disorders. This approach allows healthcare professionals to provide addiction treatment, counseling, support, and monitoring without the need for in-person visits. Key components of telemedicine in addiction treatment include:
Healthcare providers can conduct virtual consultations to assess and evaluate individuals struggling with addiction. These consultations may involve discussions about the individual’s history, current challenges they may be facing, and the development of a personalized treatment plan.
Individual and group counseling sessions, based on the evidence-based therapeutic approaches, can also be conducted remotely. Behavioral therapies, counseling, and support groups can be delivered effectively using telemedicine platforms.
Healthcare professionals can prescribe and monitor medications remotely to help individuals manage withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and other aspects of their recovery. Regular check-ins via telemedicine allow for adjustments to the medication plan based on the individual’s progress.
Education and Support
Telemedicine provides a platform for delivering educational resources and support materials related to addiction and recovery. Information on coping strategies, relapse prevention, and other relevant topics can be shared with individuals and their families.
Follow-Up and Aftercare
On-going care and follow-up appointments are conducted through telemedicine to monitor the individual’s progress and provide support as needed. Aftercare planning and support for maintaining recovery can also be facilitated remotely.
Telemedicine in addiction treatment is particularly valuable when in-person care is challenging or limited, offering a flexible and accessible way to reach individuals who may face barriers to traditional treatment settings. It allows for continuous support and intervention, contributing to a more comprehensive and patient-centered approach to addiction recovery.
BENEFITS OF TELEHEALTH IN ADDICTION TREATMENT
According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, treatment for opioid use disorder through telehealth was associated with an increased likelihood of staying in treatment longer compare to starting treatment in a non-telehealth study.
This research was conducted as part of the HEALing Communities Study, the largest addiction prevention and treatment implementation study ever conducted, which is supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and carried out in partnership with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
“This study suggests that telehealth may increase treatment access and retention, strengthening the evidence that receiving addiction care through telehealth is to be safe and beneficial, and that it should be made available to those who need it,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of NIDA. “To quell the unprecedented loss of life from the overdose crisis, we must continue to prioritize both increasing access to treatment and providing the care and support people need to stay in treatment after they have started.”
Let’s look at some specific benefits of telemedicine in the context of addiction treatment. While some of these might be obvious, many may surprise you!
Increased Access to Treatment
Telemedicine helps overcome geographical barriers, making addiction treatment more accessible to individuals in remote or underserved areas. This is particularly significant for those who may face challenges in reaching traditional healthcare facilities.
Convenience for Patients
Telemedicine provides a convenient way for individuals to receive addiction treatment and counseling without the need for in-person visits. This is especially beneficial for those with transportation difficulties, mobility issues, or other obstacles that might prevent them from attending face-to-face appointments.
Telemedicine allows individuals to access addiction treatment from the privacy of their homes, reducing the stigma associated with seeking help for substance use disorders. This may encourage more people to seek assistance without the fear of judgment from others.
Virtual appointments enable flexible scheduling for both healthcare providers and patients. This flexibility can accommodate individuals with busy work schedules or other commitments, making it easier for them to prioritize and attend addiction treatment sessions.
Continuity of Care
Telemedicine supports continuous care by allowing for regular check-ins, follow-up appointments, and on-going support. This continuity is crucial in addiction treatment, where consistent monitoring and intervention contribute to long-term recovery.
Patients can experience cost savings associated with travel expenses and time away from work. Telemedicine eliminates the need for transportation to and from healthcare facilities, reducing financial barriers to accessing addiction treatment.
Telemedicine platforms can facilitate better engagement by providing access to educational resources, self-help materials, and support networks. The interactive nature of virtual sessions can enhance communication between healthcare providers and patients, leading to more engaged and informed individuals in their recovery.
Support for Aftercare
Telemedicine supports the provision of aftercare services, allowing individuals to receive on-going support and monitoring during the crucial period following initial treatment. This assists in preventing relapse and promotes sustained recovery.
Telemedicine platforms can incorporate remote monitoring tools, such as mobile apps, to track individuals’ progress in real-time. This data can be shared with healthcare providers to inform treatment decisions and adjustments.
In situations where immediate support is needed, telemedicine can facilitate rapid intervention and crisis management. This can be critical in preventing overdose or addressing urgent mental health concerns related to addiction.
CHALLENGES OF TELEHEALTH
While telemedicine offers numerous benefits, it’s important to note that it may not be suitable for all individuals or all stages of addiction treatment. In some cases, in-person interventions or assessments may still be necessary.
For instance, telemedicine lacks the ability to have physical exams, which can be crucial in assessing certain aspects of a patient’s health. In addition, as digitally focused as our world is becoming, some individuals don’t have access to the necessary technology or reliable internet connection to take full advantage of telemedicine.
A home environment, while comfortable, may not be as controlled as a healthcare facility. This lack of control can impact the effectiveness of addiction treatment, as it may expose individuals to triggers and challenges that wouldn’t be present in a clinic setting. Additionally, managing crises and de-escalating situations remotely can prove to be challenging, as in-person interventions are often more effective in handling immediate, high-stress situations.
Last but certainly not least, telemedicine lacks the in-person connection so many patients and treatment professionals find valuable in addiction treatment. Building trust and rapport is vital in addiction treatment and ensuring lasting sobriety, and that can be difficult in a telehealth environment. Telemedicine is most effective when integrated into a comprehensive and personalized addiction treatment plan.
TELEHEALTH: FAD OR FUTURE?
When it comes to telehealth, you may wonder if it’s just a fad. Will telehealth stick around, or will it fade just like lava lamps and skinny jeans?
According to the American Medical Association, telehealth is critical to the future of health care. While the adoption of telemedicine was accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now a widely accepted safe and effective way to deliver healthcare.
With the increasing availability of high-speed internet, the development of new technologies, the rising cost of healthcare, and the increasing demand for convenience, we will continue to see a rise in the use of telehealth services. Telehealth is poised to revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered, and has the potential to improve access to care, reduce costs, and improve patient outcomes.
IS TELEHEALTH RIGHT FOR YOU?
Let’s bring this home. The benefits and conveniences of telehealth have led to its rise as an alternative to in-person treatment, but how do you determine if it is a good option for you and your needs?
This involves considering various factors related to your individual circumstances and preferences. Here are a few questions and considerations to help you assess if telehealth is a suitable option for you:
Access and Convenience
- Do you face challenges accessing in-person treatment due to location, transportation, or time constraints?
- Is the convenience of remote sessions appealing to you, given your schedule and other commitments?
Comfort with Technology
- Are you comfortable using digital platforms such as video calls or phone apps for therapy sessions?
- Do you have access to the necessary technology, like a computer or smart phone, and a stable internet connection?
Privacy and Comfort
- Do you feel more comfortable discussing personal and sensitive matters in the privacy of your own home?
- Are you concerned about the stigma associated with attending in-person treatment?
- Do you have a strong support system at home that can help facilitate your recovery?
- Are you comfortable receiving support remotely, or do you prefer face-to-face interactions?
- Reflect on your personal preferences and comfort level with virtual interactions.
- Consider whether the flexibility and privacy of telehealth align with your preferences for seeking help.
Once you’ve made a self-assessment using the prompts above, we highly recommend consulting with a healthcare professional, addiction specialist, or mental health professional to discuss your individual situation and determine if telehealth might be a good option for you.
TIPS FOR USING TELEHEALTH
Finally, if you’ve determined telehealth is a good option for you, check out our tips for making sure you have the most optimal telehealth experience.
Find a quiet, private space.
Therapy is an inherently emotional, vulnerable experience. By setting up a private spot in your home, away from roommates or family members, you’ll be able to speak candidly and be more fully invested in your session.
Put on some headphones.
Take advantage of your over-the-ear headphones, or your noise-cancelling AirPods. Sound quality will be improved and you’ll eliminate any outside distractions or noise, providing an extra layer of privacy to your conversation.
Use a computer, if possible.
Though it might be tempting to use your smartphone, we recommend a laptop or desktop computer. This will eliminate the need to hold or position your iPhone in place, and will provide you a better view of your session, allowing you to participate more actively.
Check your connection.
Nothing ruins a video call more than a bad connection. We recommend checking your Wi-Fi connection and speed here to ensure you’re set up in a good spot of high connectivity for your call.
Get set up early.
We recommend getting your computer and video call set up at least 5-10 minutes early. This ensures you have time to check your Wi-Fi connection, connect your headphones, and grab any necessary materials for your call. Go ahead and grab a beverage while you’re at it – no need to go thirsty!
If you follow these tips, you’ll be in a great spot to begin your telehealth experience. Finally, we recommend trying to relax! Hopefully you’re in a comfortable, quiet place, have removed any distractions, and are ready to receive treatment via telehealth. You’re well on your way to experiencing healing and lasting sobriety.
Cumberland Heights is proud to say that we offer telehealth services in our continuum of care. Patients can engage in our telehealth programs from anywhere in the state of Tennessee. We offer telehealth as part of our outpatient recovery services and individual therapy services.
We are committed to making sure you receive quality care when being physically present is not possible, which is why we have expanded many of our services to have virtual options.
To learn more about telehealth and treatment at Cumberland Heights, visit here or call (866) 930-2485.