Using Telepsychiatry for Substance Abuse

Man sitting on chair and talking to woman online. Professional psychotherapist talking to client. Home office interior with books and plants. Doctor helping patient line style vector illustration.

Substance abuse disorder is one of the biggest challenges facing the United States in the modern era. In particular, the opioid crisis has reached epidemic levels, affecting over ten million people across the country every year and contributing to close to 50,000 overdose-related deaths annually. Treating substance abuse disorder requires access to proper healthcare, which is simply unavailable in many parts of the country.

Telepsychiatry allows licensed, qualified psychiatric care specialists to access patients suffering from addiction in remote, rural, and other hard-to-reach areas without the need for expensive, cumbersome travel and without fear of exposure to contagions such as the novel coronavirus. Below, the telepsychiatry experts at Orbit Health discuss some of the aspects of utilizing telepsychiatry to treat substance abuse disorder and explore how telemedicine can help curb this ongoing crisis in our nation.

Prescribing Medicine via Telepsychiatry

There are a number of promising medications that have been clinically proven to help curb substance abuse disorder. Prescription medications including buprenorphine and methadone, for example, have shown positive results in treating opioid addiction. These drugs can help curb urges, reduce the likelihood of a relapse, and reduce incidents of overdose. Strict state and federal regulations control how and when physicians can prescribe these medications to patients.

State and federal laws restrict the ability of practitioners to prescribe certain medications to patients without an in-person consultation. Many of these restrictions were lifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, in recognition of the importance of telemedicine and access to medical care without fear of transmitting contagions. Physicians who were already prescribing these drugs were permitted to continue doing so via telemedicine, and new prescriptions for buprenorphine were permitted without the need for an initial in-person consultation. The medical community is moving toward more widespread acceptance of medication-assisted treatments without the need for in-person consultation when telemedicine is more than sufficient.

Telemedicine Promotes Access, Ease, and Patient Retention

Telemedicine has proven extremely effective at treating substance abuse disorder in clinical settings. First of all, the practice of telepsychiatry offers treatment options for patients suffering from addiction regardless of their location. Many people suffering from addiction, especially opioid addiction, live in counties that lack any mental healthcare facilities or practitioners. They have no access to clinical psychiatrists, let alone addiction treatment centers. With telemedicine, local medical offices and hospitals can bring in addiction treatment specialists from around the state or country to help with treatment, creating the option for addiction treatment centers and counseling services.

Moreover, studies have shown that patients respond equally well, if not better, to telepsychiatry in the addiction context as they do to in-person services. Ease of access is a significant contributing factor. If a patient suffering from substance abuse disorder has to drive an hour or more to obtain treatment, they are more likely to simply skip out on future appointments. If they can attend their sessions from an easily accessible location, and if their counselor can send them appointment reminders via email or text, they are much more likely to continue treatment. Patients also respond well to continued, regular contact with their counselors, reducing feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Continued treatment means more successful care overall.

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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