Earlier this year, the annual meeting of the Addiction Executives Industry Summit discussed a new application for telemedicine: treating recovering addicts remotely. Telemedicine is already being used to treat such conditions as bronchitis, urinary tract infections, and pink eye, but the viability of using telemedicine for addiction is still under debate.
Telemedicine could increase access to care for recovering addicts who live in rural areas, have problems with transportation, or have child care issues. And after leaving treatment, the convenience of telemedicine and continuity of care with the treatment team are expected to increase compliance with aftercare. In addition, the shortage of psychiatrists and addiction specialists who are licensed to prescribe buprenorphine, a medication used to help addicts wean off opioids, could be relieved by the technology; using telemedicine, a specialist could see and treat more patients.
However, some providers have expressed concern. Without expensive video equipment, doctors and therapists may not be able to see the entire patient rather than just the face, making it easier for patients to disguise a relapse. Furthermore, many states require the practicing physician to be located in the same state as the patient; this could prevent patients from working with the same treatment team after leaving treatment and going home. In such cases, a patient would have to find a new treatment team who does not have an established rapport or familiarity with the patient’s cues, which could indicate a relapse.
Relying on telemedicine for drug addiction treatment presents unique challenges to patients and providers. Hopefully, over time, the providers’ concerns will be addressed with adequate solutions. For instance, perhaps patients could travel to local clinics with extensive equipment for their telemedicine sessions, thus providing a higher quality connection so specialists can look for signs of relapse.
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