Treating substance abuse during COVID-19 has been a global challenge. The opioid crisis was further compounded by the pandemic, forcing individuals battling addiction into isolation with fewer treatment options.
In 2019, 50,000 people died of opioid abuse or overdose. During 2020 as the pandemic raged, the opioid epidemic further escalated, increasing the rate of deaths and causing a national relapse trigger.
As the pandemic persists, it’s critical to continue assisting patients with substance abuse treatment even as healthcare resources are stretched to the limits. For major healthcare organizations, telehealth offers a solution for patients with a wide variety of health challenges.
Below are some important benefits of telemedicine for behavioral health and new regulations concerning telehealth counseling for substance abuse and opioid addiction.
Benefits of Telehealth Therapy for Substance Abuse
Using telehealth therapy for substance use treatment comes with significant benefits for healthcare organizations and their patients. Here are some of the essential benefits that have come into clear focus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Physical distancing for public health
- Limited exposure to infection
- Less stress for opioid patients from in-person interaction
- Better access for vulnerable populations
- More consistent remote monitoring
- Treatment continues through quarantines
- Lower in-person patient load for healthcare organizations
- In some cases, better engagement and less chance of relapse
For patients in substance abuse telehealth therapy, virtual visits are a way to continue their care without worrying about COVID-19 exposure and the limits of social distancing. It shifts the focus from depending on in-person visits to staying connected to a therapist remotely.
Remote sessions are a benefit for healthcare providers too. Waiting room times are minimized. Physical contact between staff and patients is much lower, reducing potential infection and the resource-intensive impact of exposures.
Telehealth counseling also allows healthcare organizations to reach deeper into their communities to help treat opioid addiction. Now it’s possible to assist people who would have previously faced barriers like getting time off of work, arranging child care, and finding transportation.
There are also significant data-gathering and data-sharing benefits for those in substance abuse treatment. Telehealth therapy allows regular reminders and check-ins that help keep someone on track with their treatment regimen. This data goes to a healthcare professional who can analyze the facts and make the best possible treatment decisions. Plus, there’s growing evidence that patients are less likely to relapse when they have access to telehealth services.
A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found that 21.2 million people needed substance abuse treatment prior to the pandemic, yet only 11.1% of those received treatment due to a significant lack of access to providers. When the NIH examined numerous telehealth studies more recently, there had been a 20-fold increase in the availability of substance abuse treatment through telehealth. This is good news for patients, their families, and their providers.
The Positive Impact of Legislation on Telehealth Counseling
The U.S. Congress will soon be giving substance abuse a renewed focus as they consider Senate Bill 660. It’s a bill that could make access to telehealth therapy easier for people with a substance use disorder by requiring insurance companies to cover telehealth counseling at the same level as in-person counseling.
The bill would be an extension of the proposed TREATS Act, eliminating the in-person exam requirement for prescribing controlled substances. If these two measures pass, people struggling with substance use disorder could see a healthcare professional, receive counseling, and get a prescription for medication - all without setting foot in a healthcare facility.
Is your facility prepared for the impact of these legislative changes? Major healthcare organizations can take a proactive approach to these new developments in the U.S. healthcare system by partnering with a leader in telehealth innovation.
Working With the Telehealth Experts to Support Recovery
Selecting the right vendors and partners is of critical importance for healthcare organizations that provide substance abuse addiction and recovery services. The American Medical Association recommends using The Telemedicine Vendor Evaluation Tool to understand how to choose a vendor that best fits your organization.
AMC Health offers a suite of telehealth therapy services that empower people, maximize resource management, and improve patient outcomes. For more information about our telehealth counseling solutions, please reach out to us and schedule a demo.