Is Telehealth Effective in Treating Addictions?

Caucasian female contemplating take prescription pills

Addiction is an extremely prevalent problem across the United States. Since 1999, over 841,000 people in the country have died from an overdose. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019 alone, overdose caused 70,630 deaths. The principal contributor to overdoses currently are opioids (over 70%), and the lion’s share of the problems are connected to synthetic opioids. Per the CDC, 72.9% of opioid overdoses involve synthetic opioids. Opioids were involved in 49,860 overdose deaths in 2019.

Curbing the problem of addiction and the opioid crisis requires access to proper healthcare. The problems caused by addiction are especially prevalent in rural areas where there is limited access to any health care, let alone effective psychiatric care. A number of recent studies and reports have looked at the effectiveness of telehealth in treating addiction. If telehealth treatments can be just as effective as in-person treatments for addiction, then expansion of the telemedicine industry can coincide with significantly stronger results in mitigating the opioid crisis.

Studies Show Telemedicine Can be Used to Treat Addiction

Given the impact of the opioid epidemic and addiction generally, finding effective treatments that can be increased at scale is essential in protecting the health of the country. Recent studies show that telemedicine is not only effective at treating addiction, but it might be even more effective than in-person treatments (particularly where in-person care requires significant travel and administrative hassle).

For example, a review of articles and studies by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the nation’s leading nonprofit advancing addiction treatments and recovery programs, found that telemedicine was associated with “improved treatment retention when compared to participants having to travel for in-person treatment.” Increased accessibility for patients led to increased participation and patient retention, which in turn leads to greater results overall. Other common results identified in more than 22 articles concerning telemedicine treatment of addiction found “reduced depression, increased patient satisfaction, increase in accessibility, increased quality of life and decreased cost.”

Likewise, a recent study in the International Journal of Telemedicine and Applications, shared by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, found that “treatment delivered through videoconferencing has resulted in similar treatment outcomes and patient satisfaction when compared to traditional face-to-face care.” The added benefit of telemedicine is that it increases “access to service and can provide valuable support when patients are outside of the therapeutic setting and making decisions to use or not use addictive substances.”

The common thread in all of these articles is the baseline understanding that telemedicine works to treat addiction, and for many reasons, it is actually more beneficial than in-person treatment. As stated by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation: “Through enhanced convenience, reduced travel time and cost savings, telemedicine offers additional benefits for patients, physicians and the greater health care system.”

Telehealth treatments work just as well as in-person care, and they allow patients greater access to physician care. Administrative burdens are significantly reduced, allowing for increased patient monitoring without the need to schedule in-person visits. Telehealth also has the added benefit of reducing the risks associated with in-person care, including exposure to viral transmissions like the COVID-19 coronavirus. Particularly in rural areas where psychiatric experts are nearly non-existent, telemedicine provides a venue for getting at the heart of the addiction crisis.

If you are a healthcare provider or employer who would benefit from a variety of licensed and professional psychiatric care specialists, reach out to Orbit Health to discuss your options for telepsychiatry today.

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