Telehealth has been endorsed by community leaders, politicians and medical professionals alike as a strong, viable way to help combat the nation’s current opioid crisis. In 2016, nearly 64,000 people died of drug overdoses. Of those overdose deaths, a full two-thirds involved either a legal or illicit opioid.
It’s is a method of remotely providing medical services. It’s sometimes used interchangeably with telemedicine, but telemedicine could also refer to remote services for medical professionals, such as continuing education, peer communication and online conferences. Telehealth specifically means that there is direct patient care through electronic, not physical, methods. These may include:
There is a shortage of drug treatment facilities in many communities, especially affordable ones. This is partly because residents don’t want them in their communities. There is even a worse stigma surrounding methadone clinics. These clinics provide vital services for those trying to stay clean from heroin. What many people may not know is that methadone will also work just as well for those addicted to prescription opioids.
Some people can’t afford drug treatment. It can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars for just a 30-day stay. Even if free or reduced cost facilities are available, these invariably have extremely long waiting lists. Remote health services could help many addicts who are struggling with their addictions, especially those with lower-level habits who would be suitable for outpatient treatment.
Here are a few ways that telehealth can help to reach patients in need and combat the opioid crisis:
1. According to the Surgeon General, only one person in 10 receives the drug rehab treatment they need. Remote health care services not only allows more addiction treatment professionals to reach more people, it helps to keep them in treatment by eliminating long-distance traveling and conflicts with attendance at work and school.
2. Online technology allows both the healthcare provider and the patient to be online at times that are convenient for them. This means that patient and clinician can each provide feedback, ask questions and provide for treatment at different times that are convenient for each. This allows both the patient and treatment provider to make the best use of their time without the constraints that occur when simultaneous contact is required.
3. Patients have better access to their providers through remote communication. Concerns can be relayed immediately online. There is no need to wait until the healthcare provider has an available appointment. In standard medicine, this appointment time could be weeks away.
4. Healthcare providers can make timely, accurate evaluations of the patient’s progress and needs without being limited by appointment times. The patient’s physical presence isn’t required to be sure they are following their treatment plan and that the patient plans to remain in treatment for the recommended time.
5. Remote services will make substance abuse treatment available to many people who don’t currently have access to it. It will be far more cost-effective than physical treatment. Those with the means and ability to attend a physical rehab may still do so, but those who don’t will still have access to the treatment they need online.
Remote drug abuse treatment services will especially benefit some of the hardest-hit states, such as New Hampshire, New Mexico and West Virginia. These states are also deficient in sufficient drug rehab services. Remote services will remove the geographical limitations that have previously existed as barriers to quality substance abuse treatment. Several states, including South Dakota, are presenting bills in their legislatures that would increase access to electronic drug abuse treatment.
In 2018, it’s projected that more people will die from opioid overdoses than breast cancer. Remote online drug abuse treatment services hold the promise to reduce the shocking number of people who die from opioid overdoses every year.