Diagnosis of addiction with syringe and stethoscope

Treatment Providers Debate the Use of Telemedicine for Addiction

Can telemedicine be used to treat drug addiction?

This past January, the Addiction Industry Executive Summit held their annual meeting. Among the topics was telemedicine addiction—treating addiction remotely. Telemedicine is already commonly used to treat illnesses such as pink eye and bronchitis, but whether it should be used for addiction recovery has been debated heavily.

First, telemedicine could be a boon for addiction recovery. Since there is a shortage of psychiatrists and addiction specialists, especially those licensed to prescribe the medicine that helps opioid addicts wean off the drug, telemedicine would allow clinicians to see and treat more patients.

Plus, the technology reduces obstacles to care by allows recovering addicts who live in rural areas, have no transportation, or have child care issues to meet with clinicians remotely. And since telemedicine can removes these challenges, patients will no longer be able to use their location, lack of transportation, or lack of child care as an excuse to avoid seeing their doctors and therapists.

However, clinicians often gauge the patient’s body language—not just the facial expression, which can mask a relapse more easily than the whole body. Seeing the patient in his or her entirety requires costly video equipment at the patient’s site, with an estimated cost of $10,000 for a comprehensive video and audio system.

Furthermore, the biggest obstacle to using telemedicine for addiction treatment is the licensing requirements: Many states require the clinician to be licensed in the state where the patient resides.

Beyond residential treatment programs, telemedicine can be used to keep in touch with addicts as they return to their homes and jobs. This would keep them engaged and following aftercare more readily while eliminating the need for addicts to find a new treatment team after leaving rehab. This allows the ongoing treatment team to identify warning signs of a relapse more easily.

Thus far, drug treatment providers are indicating that they are not comfortable with using telemedicine in early recovery. Instead, they would rely on this tool for continuity of care, follow-up care, and therapy after an addict returns home. This option seems to combine the advantages of in-person care with those of telemedicine; perhaps we’ll see this method in use in the long run.

To read more about telemedicine for addiction, click here.

To learn more about Medicare Telehealth services, click here.

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