Science has now demonstrated that long-term monitoring of chronic addiction is the best way to combat substance use disorders. For alcoholics, this means regular monitoring of blood alcohol levels
as a way to monitor control of the disease.
Addiction treatment providers understand that relapse is such a common phenomenon in drug and alcohol addiction
that it requires long-term care. New models are applying technology to help monitor patients after intensive rehab. For drug addiction patients, this could include remote monitoring.
This article explores the use of remote monitoring for addiction medicine practices. How does this technology work? What are the potential benefits to physicians and patients? Are there drawbacks?
Addiction Treatment Remote Monitoring – Pros and Cons
“Relapse following treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) is so common that it is frequently cited as a hallmark of the disorder.”
Dr. Gregory Skipper and Dr. Robert Dupont, Addiction Professional
A 2011 article in Addiction Professional
discussed the use of remote monitoring in addiction treatment specific to one population, physicians. Doctors that developed a SUD would be required to attend intensive care including signing off an agreement to have long-term remote monitoring randomly applied to ensure their compliance with the program. If the physician failed random drug testing he or she would be removed from practice and evaluated. Under the program cited, 79 percent of physicians that agreed to remote monitoring did not relapse.
Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) allows the intermarriage of hardware and software in an application that the SUD patient can wear. These wearable devices are similar to the popular FitBit, but they are designed to provide GPS tracking by location, alerting when the wearer enters a high-risk area. Some of the other types of technology that can be applied for remote monitoring include:
- Web-enabled dashboards to remotely assess patients’ behaviors and attitudes.
- Online educational and support programs.
- Text reminders of appointments and daily support.
The benefits of these remote digital devices in addiction treatment are profound. An application can help connect the substance user to a network of caregivers that can be available round-the-clock for support and advice. An app can also answer common questions or help educate patients and caregivers about addiction treatments.
However, like all technology, there are also opportunities for the abuse of these devices. For example, could non-compliance be tied to treatment options, thus penalizing patients when they “fall off the wagon?”
Clearly, relapse prevention programs could benefit by engaging users long-term with supportive technology. Online surveys could be used to help assess the risk of relapse, which could allow addiction treatment providers to intervene. Of course, remote monitoring also smacks of “Big Brother,” where intervention specialists or even the police are called in to prevent behavior before it occurs.
As the technology evolves, consumer rights advocates must play a role to ensure that the great benefit of the IoT plays the role it was intended, to help stop the cycle of abuse.
Are you a clinician looking to find good treatment options for your patients suffering from substance use disorders? Contact us to find out more about referring patients to our facilities