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Should You Offer Telemedicine Services in Your Addiction Medical Practice?

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Could technology provide the answer to the current shortage of addiction treatment providers?

Today, the statistics are showing a perfect storm, an exponential rise in addiction and a downward spiral in the volume of medical professionals undertaking training to treat these diseases.

Telemedicine is the use of digital technology to offer remote patients access to physicians by using video conferencing tools.

This article explores the pros and cons of offering telemedicine options in your addiction medical practice. How can addiction medicine specialists decide whether to offer telemedicine services? What factors should be considered?

Addiction Treatment and the High Tech Option

Telemedicine offers some exciting possibilities for addiction treatment as a way to expand services, particularly to lower income rural settings that are suffering from a severe shortage of addiction treatment professionals. However, a recent study showed that there are currently extensive barriers to deploying these services.

Addiction Science & Clinical Practice points out that telemedicine removes treatment barriers, offering “great potential for enhancing treatment and recovery for people with substance use disorders (SUDs).” The study, reported in this article, followed five states in their efforts to provide telemedicine from February 2013 to June 2014. Researchers determined the level of satisfaction in these services while addressing the barriers to implementation of this technology.

Specific telemedicine options included phone-assisted treatment, web screening and treatment, video conferencing, smartphone apps, and virtual worlds. The researchers determined that, while the technologies had the potential to expand treatment, there were considerable barriers to adoption, including:

  • The costs of adopting the technologies
  • The current climate of non-reimbursement by insurance carriers for treatment provided with these tools
  • Barriers related to physicians’ unfamiliarity with the technology
  • Confidentially concerns
  • A lack of telemedicine providers

While telemedicine is an exciting opportunity to bridge geographies, these barriers are effectively thwarting widespread adoption of the technologies. However, the study concluded, “Telemedicine will inevitably play a greater role in addiction treatment and recovery services. Yet, technologies that become part of standard practice will likely be a result of considerations of the technology’s costs, perceived benefits, and ease or difficulty of implementation.”

Telemedicine in Your Addition Treatment Practice?

"For patients, telemedicine emphasizes the feeling that their health is in their hands–with the advent of cell phones, sometimes literally! Emphasize this autonomy when you use telemedicine. Helping patients make solid health choices is the goal of any physician, so let that mentality guide your virtual treatments."
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Addiction treatment

Could telemedicine extend addiction treatment’s reach?

Telemedicine is simply a newer tool for an age-old profession. Given that clinical care in addiction treatment can extend for a long period of recovery, it is likely that the patient relationship can be maintained by using these tools, without having an in-person office visit. Counseling sessions can be conducted using telehealth models. Telemedicine vendor eVisit suggests that mobile devices can be used for progress updates and interventional communications, without harming the established patient relationship.

FS Health reports that telemedicine adoption is only around five percent. Yet this technology offers real potential for addiction treatment specialists struggling with large caseloads separated by both time and distance that hamper clinical care. 

Do you have patients in need of addiction treatment services? Contact us to find out more about referring patients to our facilities.

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