Telehealth Treatment
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Online Rehab: The Role of Telehealth Treatment for Addiction

Unlike other fields in healthcare, substance abuse treatment still lacks a meaningful technology component. Telehealth technologies have not been practiced on a universal level in addiction recovery treatment programs. But studies show that telehealth has the possibility to change and improve the way we rehabilitate substance use disorder (SUD) patients and could reduce the number of people affected by the opioid crisis in this country.

Since telemedicine can remove the barriers of time and distance, it has the potential for reinforcing people’s treatment and recovery. Telehealth services improve a patient’s connection to services and can provide important support when they are away from the medical setting and making decisions about whether to use or not to use an addictive substance. In-person contacts would then be limited to group sessions or scheduled appointments. 

Telehealth applications (apps) that transmit health information from one place to another build new connections between medical personnel and their patients. Patients get the feeling that their illness is being followed more carefully. They are given the benefit of participating in their own treatment plan, and that they are not being forgotten by their doctor.

Breaking Down Barriers

Implementing telemedicine techniques removes the barriers of geography, time, and stigma. It can improve access to addiction treatment services. 

  • Patients who live in rural areas can receive addiction treatment services in their own homes or the office of a local health care provider, rather than driving long distances.
  • Patients can receive help for their addictions with confidentiality and without fear of judgment from others.
  • Typically, counselors are not accessible when the patient needs them most, which is usually outside the treatment structure. Telehealth increases the providers’ availability and gives patients timely support.

What is Telehealth Treatment?

The primary way patients and providers have been communicating has been through in-person interactions. This is how clinicians have undertaken substance abuse treatment and behavioral therapy. Although it has been proven to be effective, telehealth offers a new vision in the scope of treatment for SUDs.

Patients, doctors, and substance abuse facilities have all expressed an interest in using telehealth during the course of treatment. This represents an exceptional opportunity to help challenge the drug crisis in America. Telehealth offers a promising solution to a public health issue that has no definitive answer. 

Telemedicine Treatment Approaches

telehealth online rehab

Telephone-Based Treatment

This is the oldest telehealth approach and professionals are already using it to give continual care for substance use disorders. Continuing care delivered by phone is easy to implement and doesn’t require any extra costs, such as licensing fees or patient training. Telephone monitoring, feedback, and counseling can all be included in telephone-based services.

Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) Technology

IVR is an upgraded version of telephone-based technology. In IVR, an automated telephone system provides clients with pre-set questions and then provides different feedback and follow-up questions based on their answers to the questions.

In initial studies, it was shown to reduce post treatment drinking. This was true for those clients who reached their treatment goals before discharge.

Web-Based Treatment

These services are available to many patients who can access them at any time, and at their convenience. There are several web-based apps ready to use for SUD assessment. In most cases, web-based telehealth services are useful for reducing alcohol consumption, primarily in nonstudent populations.


Videoconferencing for psychiatry or addiction treatment happens through secure portals on personal computers or dedicated telehealth consoles. Currently, these technologies are being used in addiction treatment:

  • Video therapy: Patients can communicate with therapists from their homes or distant locations if necessary.
  • Recovery assistance: A peer-support specialist or a therapist interacts with a client in recovery.
  • Specialty services: Patients can have access to medical specialists who may otherwise be difficult to contact. It could be a physician who can prescribe buprenorphine (a medication used to treat opiate addiction) or any other medications for addiction treatment.

Studies of videoconferencing for addiction treatment have not found any difference in the results or patient satisfaction whether the care was by video or in person.

How Telehealth is Changing Addiction Treatment

As more and more patients struggle with pain management and addiction recovery, health organizations are looking at telehealth as a solution to the opioid crisis and other substance use disorders. Here are some ways telehealth is changing addiction treatment:

  • On-demand connection to caregivers, addiction support, and recovery tools. Patients can access this help in times of crisis.
  • Increases collaboration with substance abuse experts. If a patient with an addiction reaches out to a primary care physician (PCP) for pain management, the PCP can quickly connect to an addiction specialist to better serve the patient.
  • Improves pain management. Studies show that about 21-29% of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain will misuse them and 8-12% will develop an opioid use disorder. To avoid this, providers are experimenting with devices that can prevent addiction including patches and wearable medical devices. Wearable devices can also monitor a patient’s vital signs and send alerts to their providers in case of emergency.
  • Mapping the recovery process. Remote patient monitoring, online consultations, and wearable devices make it possible for providers and addiction recovery experts to map out the whole recovery process by collecting data from the patient.

Benefits of Telehealth

A 2018 research study concluded that despite having immense potential for aiding in recovery and rehabilitating patients with SUDs, telehealth is sorely underused. The study identified the gap between patient interest and the use of technology at 37.32%. It showed an area in addiction treatment that is lacking. The study gives insight into how telehealth can improve patient access to treatment and also improve the quality and frequency of care. Other benefits include:

  • Once a face-to-face relationship is established between patient and clinician, telemedicine can help maintain the relationship. It can serve as interventional communication as well as progress updates.
  • Telemedicine provides easy access to healthcare providers for patients that live in remote or distant locations and also provides a way of communication and motivation. This is especially important since rural states such as West Virginia and Oklahoma currently have the highest averages of opioid use in the nation. Medical personnel can target SUDs in the places where it is needed most.
  • Telemedicine application allows patients to stay on track and be reminded of their progress outside of the doctor’s office. This reminds them of their goals and path to sobriety. Some of the main reasons for relapse is a lack of support and being released from treatment too soon. Telehealth technologies attack both issues by giving continuous support through options such as motivational chats and text messages. These approaches have a high likelihood of improving program success rates and lowering the number of people affected by substance abuse overall.
  • Patients can inform their providers about their condition quickly and easily. It is easier to get a reading of the patient’s daily life and act to address problems before they start.
  • Many addictions arise from mental and physical health problems such as physical pain or trauma. Telehealth is an effective method for any type of chronic care. It acts as a way to maintain the quality of care and stop severe conditions from having a bigger influence on patients’ lives.
  • Telehealth can be used to encourage healthy behavior patterns. Continuity of care is strengthened by combining tracking and action. Patients can see how treatment helps solve problems. There are some basic behavior-based apps and programs that show patients how to take action in their lifestyle changes. Patients benefit from consistent communication and encouragement.

Putting Telehealth into Action

The main way counselors and patients interact is in person. And it is the main way they have undertaken substance abuse treatment and behavioral therapy. Face-to-face is effective but telehealth offers a new angle on substance abuse treatment. Healthcare providers will apply telehealth to addiction treatment and recovery services by:

  • Using telehealth to complement services. It’s not an entirely new way of practicing but telehealth should be used as a complement to traditional services after a face-to-face relationship has been established.
  • Continuing care after release from treatment. The longer a patient continues with therapy, the better the long-term results. Therapists can track the patient’s progress and take action if there seems to be an issue.
  • Putting patients in more control of their treatment. By talking to patients in their home environments, it is easier for them to show more interest in making their own health decisions and encourages them to contact their therapist when needed.
  • Using telehealth for regular check-ins. Patients can update their healthcare provider about their condition quickly and easily when telehealth is used for routine check-ins.
  • Telehealth can be an effective tool for treating co-occurring conditions. It is challenging to treat multiple health problems simultaneously. Many addictions come about as an attempt to self-medicate physical or emotional pain. Telehealth is a way to maintain the quality of care and stop severe conditions from having more of an impact on the patient.

Who Offers It?

In  2019, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) polled healthcare leaders as to whether they will offer telehealth services in 2019. More than a third (35%) said that they will not. Twenty-nine percent already offered telehealth services, 17% said they planned to and 19% were unsure. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced clinicians to and governmental agencies to reform medical protocols and encourage telehealth services.

State Medicaid programs cover home-based telehealth through a variety of options. Medicaid mandates that home-based telehealth services meet the same standard of care as in-person visits.  And it usually reimburses for services delivered through telehealth and in-person care equally.

Medicare does not generally cover telehealth in the home but is starting to cover telehealth services in certain situations.

Commercial coverage is based on state laws and how they use third-party vendors. Telehealth policy at the state level is variable but it is changing rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Get Connected to Your Future

Daylight Recovery Services has detox and addiction treatment programs that can be designed to meet your requirements. The revolution in telehealth technology for addiction treatment makes it more economical and convenient to continue your care, giving you the best chance at lasting sobriety. We have addiction specialists available 24-hours a day to help you get connected to your future and the full life you can achieve. Don’t wait any longer to get the help and resources you need Contact us today!

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