Can Telemedicine Successfully Treat Addiction?

Drug and alcohol addiction is a mounting problem all over the world. In the United States, 12 percent of Americans suffer from some form of drug addiction, according to addiction recovery firm Resurgence Behavioral Health. About 80 percent of those who struggle with drug addiction also struggle with an alcohol addiction.

Any form of addiction has serious consequences on emotional and physical well-being, and professional treatment is usually essential for a person to get back on track. To cure these addictions, many are turning to telemedicine.

Telemedicine is one of the latest and greatest trends in physical and emotional health and

well-being. It’s particularly advantageous for those who live in remote areas where access to such programs is uncommon.

Telemedicine is not always the best solution for healthcare, however. There are limitations, which begs the question: Will these practices be effective in the treatment of addictions?

Benefits of Telemedicine in Addiction Treatment

Telemedicine is a way in which treatment professionals can reach people on a broader level.

“This amalgamation of extended recovery support with predictive technology will provide the means to assess risk in patients, reduce healthcare expense and improve the quality of care,” officials from MAP Recovery Network, a Texas Based telemedicine provider, stated in an announcement address.

Some of the benefits of using such a resource include:

  • Privacy

Many who suffer from addictions fail to receive treatment because they’re embarrassed. They might also lack the confidence to check themselves in. Telemedicine visits allow addiction sufferers to connect with a healthcare professional without concern for their reputation.

  • Post Treatment Support

Telemedicine lets recovery specialists stay in contact with patients after they’ve exited treatment centers to continue their recovery journey. “I think typically when they leave treatment they fall out of aftercare,” Lisa Merconchini, a Boca Raton clinical psychologist said to The Insider. “[Telemedicine] allows them to stay engaged and follow aftercare.”

  • Flexibility and Easy Access

Those who live in remote areas can access treatment much easier when the service is online. They won’t have to drive an hour or more to get treatment, which can significantly increase the numbers of those seeking care. It also makes it easier to work around work and school schedules for those who can’t give up their daily responsibilities to get treatment.

  • A Growing Industry

Telemedicine is always evolving and growing with the latest trends, and jumping in now is a great way for addiction recovery centers to stay competitive.

“As the behavioral healthcare reimbursement model continues to evolve, we will see addiction treatment providers take innovative strides to better serve their client base and improve their treatment outcomes,” Jacob Levenson, MAP’s CEO, said in the press release mentioned earlier. “This heightened demand for accountability from payers will completely change the way in which addiction treatment is delivered and the result will be increased numbers of individuals who achieve long-term recovery from addiction.”

The Downsides to Telemedicine Addiction Treatment

Like every medical innovation, there are negatives. It’s possible that telemedicine cannot fully replace addiction recovery because of a few key disadvantages:

  • Interpersonal Disconnect

It’s harder for addiction recovery specialists to really connect over a webcam. They might miss out on social cues and fail to make a strong connection because they’ve never actually met in person. This can make the treatment ineffective.

“I have seen people trying to do it on laptop or itty bitty webcam,” said Dr. Corey of the Camden Coalition for Healthcare Providers in a My Palm Beach Post article. “If I can’t see patient I can’t see what’s going on. He could be flipping me off under the table.”

  • Licensing Problems

States have their own rules about addiction recovery treatment, and getting licensed to perform telemedicine is challenging. Some states require that the telemedicine physician must be licensed in the same state as the patient. Getting additional licensing to practice on a broader spectrum can make it more difficult to connect.

  • Insurance Gaps

Because there’s minimal research about the effectiveness of telemedicine for addiction recovery, insurance companies might refuse to cover treatment costs. More than half of states have made laws that mandate reimbursement for telemedicine addiction recovery treatment, but many states are still behind the times.

Works Best in Concert with Check-In Treatment Centers

Overall, telemedicine for addiction recovery can be a very useful tool if it’s used in concert with traditional treatment centers. It provides excellent aftercare opportunities, but the licensing gaps and interpersonal disconnect make it difficult to provide that care without first establishing a personal connection with a client in the same state.

“Extending the continuum of recovery support that begins when someone enters recovery to several months post-treatment is so important to those who suffer from addiction, those who love them, and for all of our communities.,” Tom Kimball, MD, MAP’s clinical director, said in the MAP press release. “Trained counselors providing recovery advocacy, guidance, and care to persons in recovery over the long-term is a game changer for our field.”

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.