Telemedicine refers to technology-based services, such as video chats, phone calls, phone applications or text messaging resources, that assist in providing care for a variety of health concerns. Americans are increasingly turning to telemedicine to supplement their healthcare, especially in an era of stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures.
Treatment and medical attention is no longer contingent on one’s proximity to a hospital or treatment center or access to transportation. For people seeking treatment for substance abuse and addiction, telemedicine can accommodate treatment, be a source of emotional support for patients, and aid in reducing hospital visits and overdoses.
Drug overdoses are the leading reason behind injury-related deaths within the United States. While many people source drugs from the black market, 36% of the 47,000 opioid overdoses in 2017 resulted from prescription opioids. This figure signifies that patients could benefit from supplementary attention from medical providers, so that inappropriate prescriptions can be limited and overdoses less common.
Medication assisted treatment makes overdose less likely and treatment more successful, and online consultation allows patients greater accessibility to Buprenorphine and Suboxone, the most widely-used drugs that block opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, online consultation lessens shame and stigma for those in recovery.
When asking for help from physicians in-office or facing crowded addiction medical clinics, many patients can feel discouraged and overwhelmed, which subsequently leads to undertreatment of their addiction. Consultations over video chat or phone calls allows the patient to feel comforted in their own home and provides a sense of control over their own health care.
The 2020 pandemic has incited a revolution for addiction treatment by reducing barriers in telemedicine. Patients can receive care entirely via virtual resources and Buprenorphine can be prescribed for a one month supply. Previously, patients had to go into a clinic for an initial visit before receiving treatment and Buprenorphine could only be prescribed as a one week prescription.
Providers are now able to admit new patients with opioid addictions using telehealth services. Whereas 80% of people who could benefit from Buprenorphine did not receive it before, greater accessibility to this drug means that those with access to phones, data and other technological resources can consistently receive care. These changes reduce hassle and make it more likely that patients continue their care and refill life-saving prescriptions on time.
In addition, insurance modifications on telehealth are changing the lives of people battling addiction. With Medicare now covering video consultations just the same as traditional in-person ones, other insurance providers, as well as Medicaid, are now following suit. With some telehealth providers providing therapy as a part of treatment, patients are facing less barriers across the board on their recovery journey.
Medical providers and those advocating for improved addiction recovery services are hopeful that these regulation changes continue to be in effect post-Coronavirus pandemic. The opioid crisis, however, is an insidious epidemic plaguing the U.S., and this country is in desperate need of a treatment-revolution to save the lives of millions.