The Benefits and Drawbacks of Telehealth for Substance Use Disorders

Since the global pandemic, telehealth and telemedicine services have increased within the healthcare industry and especially when it comes to mental health services, behavioral health services and substance use disorders. Could this new approach to providing critical services become a standard when implementing options for substance addiction care?

Telehealth is the act of using electronic telecommunication technologies such as telephone services, video conferencing, texting, mobile applications or web-based tools, to provide health care services at a distance without the requirement of traveling to a clinic or a provider’s office. Telemedicine is the act of delivering medication services through telehealth technology pathways. Together, these new technologically advanced healthcare service outlets present both positive and negative results when it comes to treating individuals with co-occurring mental health conditions, substance use disorders and alcohol use disorders. 

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Telehealth is still quite a new form of health care service, only having really taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic when person-to-person contact and communication were limited. Telehealth can be classified into four main categories of virtual services. Synchronous delivers health information and services to patients in real-time such as telephone recovery support, therapy treatment over the telephone or therapy treatment over video conferencing. Asynchronous allows patients and physicians to collect medical history, data, images and reports and send them to a specialist for further diagnostics and specific treatment expertise. With remote monitoring, physicians are able to use video monitoring technologies for patients to review tests and images remotely. And with mobile health applications, these types of tools allow patients increased access to vital health services.  

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When it comes to the benefits of telehealth services for treating those who suffer from substance use disorders, virtual telehealth care removes geographical barriers that would normally be a hindering factor to receiving necessary treatment. For patients who have difficulty with mobility and for patients who live in rural or remote areas, having access to virtual care could significantly increase their overall health. Virtual and digital care can help expand the reach of services to underserved communities or communities with limited resources; these patients are often some of the most vulnerable. 

In other situations, behavioral health care can be costly and create a financial barrier for those seeking medication management treatments and cognitive behavioral therapies. Telehealth decreases the cost of care, which makes it more accessible to those who need treatment services. Finances and money can often be a stressful and triggering topics of discussion. With the lowered cost of virtual care, patients have one less factor to worry about and can focus solely on recovery from their addictions.

Substance use disorder treatments often require physicians and other rehab clinicians to stay in constant contact with their patients. Telehealth options allow for patients to have easy access to their providers on a long-term basis as well as provide immediate access to support for those who are in a more vulnerable state during their recovery.

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We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Like any new emerging technology, telehealth isn’t without its drawbacks and criticisms. Critics of virtual health services say it takes out the personal connection between health care providers and patients, which can be critical when treating those with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. Many times providers work on building trusting relationships with their patients and it can be more difficult to do so through a virtual lens as opposed to in-person contact. Telehealth services can also reduce treatment structure and patient accountability. This can especially be evident when compared to patients who receive treatment in a residential or outpatient setting where individuals are in a safe, secure and structured environment meant to help focus on their healing and recovery. 

At Hotel California by the Sea, individuals suffering from substance use disorders or co-occurring mental health conditions receive a full spectrum of care. Clients have options from detox, residential and outpatient services as well as specialized therapies targeting any co-occurring mental health conditions. Hotel California by the Sea believes in healing the person as a whole by creating individualized care plans that treat both the physical and emotional state of any addiction. 

References:

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/telehealth-improves-treatment-opioid-use-disorder

https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/education/bcr/addiction-research/telehealth-addiction-treatment

https://www.asam.org/quality-care/clinical-recommendations/covid/supporting-access-to-telehealth-for-addiction-services

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5866865/

https://telehealth.hhs.gov/providers/telehealth-for-behavioral-health/tele-treatment-for-substance-use-disorders/

https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/coronavirus-omicron-variant-vaccine-and-case-numbers-in-the-united-states-oct-3-2022

https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Telehealth-and-Substance-Use-Disorder-Services-in-the-Era-of-COVID-19-FINAL.pdf