What is Telehealth?

Known as telehealth, this new method of medical consultation includes the use of texting, videoconferencing, browser-based tools, and even smartphone applications that allow medical professionals and patients to connect virtually. This allows patients to undergo initial assessments without having to go to the rehabilitation center themselves.

Doctors can also conduct psychiatric and psychological evaluations and prescribe medications online, reducing the additional travel costs for patients just to get the right medication for their case. Relapse prevention is better facilitated with telehealth because patients can now set and receive therapy appointments over the phone or via videoconferencing to support their mental well-being.

Other conveniences of telehealth include text messages that alert patients of upcoming appointments and text-based therapy as an alternative to telephone support and videoconferencing, and downloadable applications for the computer, tablets, and phone that serves as an all-in-one approach to communicate with their therapist, set an appointment, and request for a prescription refill.

Advantages and disadvantages of telehealth

As with other forms of treatment, telehealth services for substance addiction also have their share of advantages and disadvantages. Before shifting to a whole new outpatient treatment procedure, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons first.

The most obvious advantage of telehealth is that of convenience. Being able to stay at home and still receive treatment is a huge benefit for patients who might be too anxious to leave their homes. This also reduces transportation and childcare costs spent when attending sessions. It also provides flexibility for patients in recovery who are currently employed, allowing them to fit therapy services into their schedules that may not have been possible in a traditional setup.

As favorable as it may be for patients, telehealth is not without risks. Since it mostly utilizes a digital platform, healthcare providers must prioritize the protection of their patients’ personal information. Insurance coverage is also a major concern since telehealth is still an emerging form of treatment and only a limited number of facilities offer these services. Telehealth also relies on stable internet connection and the availability of devices so if a patient doesn’t have these, then telehealth services would be impossible to administer. Lastly, talking to a therapist on the phone or via videoconferencing will not feel the same as that of a face-to-face session. There’s a certain level of trust and confidence required in sharing personal information about one’s health, and physical separation between a patient and a therapist might feel uncomfortable, especially for the patient.

The disparity between patients and healthcare providers

Telehealth provides both healthcare providers and patients in recovery the convenience of being able to accomplish more tasks, a benefit that rehabilitation centers are now recognizing. Initially, the number of substance abuse rehabilitation centers that adopted telehealth technologies were quite scarce compared to other fields in recovery care.

On the other hand, the same can’t be said when it comes to the number of patients showing high interest in such methods, in which percentage is actually the opposite. In a survey done in 8 states, almost 69% of patients in 363 treatment facilities indicated that they would like to try mobile applications that optimize texting appointment reminders but in reality, only 13% of the facilities use such features. Additionally, 55% of patients showed interest in receiving video-based therapy, but only 20% offer this kind of service.

This apparent imbalance between the number of patients wanting to try telehealth and facilities actually offering these services is concerning, and it presents an increasing demand for newer and more modern methods of rehabilitation.

Telehealth as a response to restrictions amidst COVID-19

Social distancing and lockdown protocols in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 had a huge impact on rehabilitation centers offering outpatient services, which leads to a faster shift in using telehealth in order to provide continuous support towards patients in recovery. More and more facilities are now turning to telehealth as a means to conduct critical addiction treatment services and prevent patients from suffering a relapse.

It’s important to note that there has been a sudden rise of substance abuse during the pandemic, citing a 54% increase of opioid overdoses in 16 states. Alcohol consumption has also escalated due to an alarming 500% surge in sales in online stores alone. These numbers include those who have already been diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder as well as recovering patients relapsing to their addiction as a coping mechanism because of the emotional and mental toll of the pandemic.

It is in these concerns that medical experts see the benefit of turning to telehealth as an alternative. The shift to a modern method of providing services to patients in recovery is imminent and has only been hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic. There may be a number of risks, but the advantages of using telehealth ensure that patients receive consistent care even in the midst of a health crisis. Rest assured that patients can still expect the same kind of treatment aimed towards long-term sobriety regardless if it’s face-to-face or not.