Telehealth For Substance Abuse

An image of a distraught woman sitting on a couch. The image implies she is struggling with substance abuse issues.
telehealth for substance abuse

In recent years, telehealth has become a useful tool for accessing and delivering healthcare. In the fields of psychiatry, radiology, and even emergency care, telehealth has helped bridge the gap between patient and provider as the world adjusts to new norms in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Substance abuse treatment is one field of healthcare where telehealth remains underutilized. Although the use of telehealth for substance abuse treatment has increased 20-fold from 2010, it still represents only a small fraction of virtual care consultations.[1] 

This disparity poses a significant problem for the treatment of substance abuse after COVID-19. Even though lockdowns have been lifted, health concerns may prevent some patients from seeking in-person treatment. In addition, individuals in remote or rural areas may lack adequate access to care. 

Telehealth for substance abuse is a solution that can solve all these issues and bring help to those who need it the most. 

Substance Abuse In America 

Drug addiction has been an ever-present problem in America. But with the prevalence of opioid abuse in recent years and the spread of fentanyl, heroin, and other illegal drugs, the situation has reached crisis proportions. According to the CDC, drug addiction has claimed the lives of more than 841,000 Americans since 1999 [2]  

Over the years, countless rehabilitation centers and recovery networks have sprung up across the country. Employing behavioral therapy modalities in combination with detox programs, these facilities have helped save the lives of millions of Americans. 

However, even though many behavioral therapy clinics began utilizing telehealth in their treatment programs as early as 2010, rehabilitation centers did not do the same until after the pandemic. In fact, research from 2017 found that telehealth for substance abuse accounted for less than 1% of virtual care visits. [3]

Covid-19  

When COVID-19 came along, it was made all too apparent to rehabilitation clinics that they needed to incorporate virtual addiction counseling into their treatment programs.  

As lockdowns and restrictions swept across the country, countless patients suffering from substance abuse disorders (SUDs) found themselves struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation. When these feelings combined with a lack of structure and routine, many patients ended up relapsing under the emotional stress of the pandemic. 

In March 2020, alcohol sales surged by 55% compared to the previous year, [4] and a research study estimated up to 150,000 “deaths of despair” from drugs, alcohol, and suicide, linked to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. [5] 

The Effectiveness of Telehealth for Substance Abuse

According to researchers in California, telehealth for substance abuse treatment increased exponentially during the pandemic.[6] While the study didn’t elaborate on the effectiveness of virtual care in combating addiction, other researchers have concluded that telehealth offered promise as a treatment method. According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a systematic review of a series of virtual addiction counseling sessions found telehealth to be associated with improved patient retention. This could most likely be attributed to the convenient accessibility of care for any patient with a phone or laptop.

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation also found that a review of 22 studies conducted in the U.S., the European Union, and Australia linked telehealth to reduced alcohol consumption. These studies also reportedly found a correlation between telehealth and reduced depression, increased patient satisfaction, and improved quality of life. 

Implementing Telehealth for Substance Abuse Disorders 

While the need for virtual addiction therapy is apparent, there are still many obstacles that are preventing implementation on a large scale. Unfortunately, many clinics in areas disproportionately affected by substance abuse lack the resources needed to purchase the equipment for a telehealth program. In addition, establishing new policies and training staff in the use of new equipment may prove too much of an undertaking for small, rural clinics. [7]

Beam Health’s Solution 

Unlike many telehealth providers, Beam is a completely online platform. There is no equipment, software, or downloads required and our specialists can have a virtual clinic up and running within 24 hours. Beam’s interface is easy-to-use and our attentive client support team is always happy to provide patients and providers guidance on how to use our platform. Should any of your patients require assistance using our system, you can rest assured that one of friendly customer success representatives will be there to walk them through any issues they may encounter.

For more information and to schedule a quick demo, click here

Sources:

  1.  https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(20)31195-2/fulltext 
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/index.html 
  3. https://discoverymood.com/blog/disparity-telemedicine-substance-abuse-treatment/ 
  4. https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-financial-markets-mi-state-wire-detroit-michigan-c407ecb931c6c528b4cceb0ecc216f0c 
  5. https://wellbeingtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/WBT_Deaths-of-Despair_COVID-19-FINAL-FINAL.pdf 
  6. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/11782218211028655 
  7. https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/toolkits/substance-abuse/2/treatment/care-delivery/telehealth 

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