Telehealth Transforms Substance Use and Mental Health Disorder Care Delivery

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is recommending telehealth and telemedicine to healthcare providers looking to leverage Medicaid funding for opioid abuse treatment. According to multiple peer-review studies, telehealth and telemedicine are proven just as effective as in-person visits in the treatment of mental health issues. Tackling an epidemic that no one is immune to that is occurring in every state – in small towns and large metropolitan areas – is imperative. Its illegal forms and legal, prescription drugs impact young adults, entire families and even unborn children.

The chance for Community Health Centers and Safety-Net Hospitals to harness the power of digital health and technology to connect with patients outside the office or hospital and monitor their care remotely is transforming healthcare delivery models. Hard-to-reach and underserved populations are less likely to receive effective care given the harrowing shortage of mental health professionals. Further intensifying the situation is the fact that nearly 60 percent of mental health sufferers go untreated due to long lead times for appointments (which range from a few months to one year), tendency to forget appointments and the inability to travel for care.

 

Multi-faceted team required for healing journey
Considering a support team of multiple providers – primary care physicians and specialists – is needed to steward the healing process for those with substance use and mental health disorders, telehealth and telemedicine provide unprecedented support and supervision during the most challenging times associated with a recovery process that can take months, years or a lifetime. For example, withdrawal symptoms for short-acting opioids might peak within one to three days and then taper off over the course of a week. But chronic withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety, and dysphoria, can last for weeks or months following initial withdrawal.

Without proper support and supervision, relapse is more likely to occur during long periods of withdrawal. While it may not be financially or physically feasible for some addiction patients to stay under the direct watch of a detox doctor during recovery, telehealth provides connectivity to an affordable, effective and long-term network of care at their fingertips – day or night. Services include but aren’t limited to: remote doctor consultations, shared electronic health care records, access to additional recovery resources and telehealth monitoring solutions. When patients are more deeply engaged with multiple specialists throughout their recovery journey the result is better quality care.

Currently, about half of all states in the U.S., have laws that provide insurance coverage for telehealth and telemedicine services. This emerging field is already playing a significant role in the future of all healthcare and is especially impactful in addictions treatment and recovery.

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