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Is Telehealth Effective for Substance Use Disorders?

Thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services have grown in popularity. People have used them for physical healthcare. A growing number of people have turned to telehealth for mental healthcare and substance use disorders as well. A recent study on the effectiveness of telehealth services found that it can increase patient engagement, improve retention rates, and improve care in some cases.

Why Telehealth Services Can Be Effective at Treating Substance Use Disorders

Telehealth might make it easier for patients to start and stick with addiction treatment. This is one of the biggest challenges in getting help for substance use.

Many providers have moved to a hybrid telehealth model. They offer in-person treatment and telehealth treatment. The goal is to find the most appropriate services to help their patients.

Several circumstances lend themselves to patients being more engaged via telehealth treatment. One is the ease of access. The second is its convenience. Of course, there are some circumstances where an in-person visit will be more beneficial for a patient than telehealth will be.

Most studies on this topic found that telehealth was just as effective inpatient retention as in-person visits were. They were the same regarding treatment satisfaction, therapeutic alliance, and a reduction in substance use.

Other studies found that telehealth can be effective in managing opioid use disorder. In most studies, patients who received treatment through telehealth also had in-person therapy for things like drug testing and counseling.

The Role of Telehealth in Substance Use Disorder Counseling

Many providers feel comfortable using telehealth as part of one on one counseling. They feel that it was as effective as meeting with a patient face-to-face or even more effective. However, when it comes to medical management treatment, many providers feel that telehealth is not as effective as in-person treatment.

Intensive outpatient, individual, and group counseling are among the most common telehealth services for individuals battling substance use disorder. The least provided treatments via telehealth included methadone intake assessment, withdrawal management, and drug testing.

Benefits Vary Based on a Patient’s Circumstances

When talking to patients about how they feel when receiving telehealth care for their substance use disorder, it becomes clear that the benefits of telehealth are linked to the patient’s circumstances. Patients with a limited budget see telehealth as advantageous because it reduces time and expense. This is also beneficial for patients with young children who find it challenging to get time off from work to travel for care.

However, it has to be acknowledged that in-person treatment is still the best option for some patients, especially those who live an isolated lifestyle or are homeless. This is also true for those who have attention deficit disorders and those who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology.

Telehealth can lack the personal feel that allows clinicians to gauge their patient’s progress. Providing emotional connectedness is a critical factor in helping patients overcome substance use disorders.

Telehealth Expands Access to Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Telehealth has made it easier for patients to get substance use disorder treatment, especially during the pandemic. In some areas of the country, patients may need to travel for hours to see a healthcare provider. Telehealth instantly alleviates that burden.

During the pandemic, specific licensing requirements were loosened. This means that specialists can obtain licenses in adjacent states easier than ever before. Specialists now have access to larger populations. People with a less common diagnosis can easily find mental health and substance use disorder professionals who focus on their field.

Improving Substance Use Disorder Treatment Via Telehealth

For telehealth to be accessible for substance use disorder patients, tweaks need to be made in both the way care is given and the pathways to success. This means expanding broadband connections in the United States, especially in rural areas.

Another step to improve this treatment is mixing remote patient monitoring strategies with telehealth. There are just certain aspects of substance use disorder treatment that telehealth was not built for. One example is detoxification. During the detox process, patients may be physically and emotionally upset. They are dealing with detox symptoms that impact their vital signs. Until technology reaches a point where vital signs and measurements can be taken remotely, in-person visits will still have their place.

Are you or someone you love looking for in-person or telehealth substance use disorder care? If so, call us today at 844-903-2111. We can help. Our counselors are available 24 hours a day.