The use of telehealth technologies for the delivery of behavioral health services has been increasing over the last few years. A trend that has only accelerated due to COVID-19. Research is starting to look at whether telehealth (telepsychiatry) is beneficial in the delivery of addiction treatment services.
Telehealth is seen by many as a viable way to reduce the cost of healthcare, while simultaneously expanding access to medical treatments. Due to the impact of COVID-19, authorities have temporarily relaxed HIPAA regulations for medical providers. This has allowed healthcare professionals to deliver certain healthcare treatments to a greater number of patients.
The use of telehealth’s videoconferencing technology has allowed patients to receive treatments remotely in the comfort of their own home. Overall, this is a trend that will likely continue in the future.
However, the question has been raised as to whether the use of telehealth for behavioral health services, such as treatments for drug addiction, are beneficial?
What is Telehealth?
When used in the behavioral health field, telehealth is sometimes referred to as telepsychiatry. Improvements in digitally based chat, voice and live video has allowed telehealth services to improve. Some general concepts and key features include:
- Delivery of healthcare services through the use of the internet and other related technologies.
- Allows for the delivery of therapy/treatments over a long distance.
- Traditionally, telehealth has differentiated between “store and forward” services versus “live or real-time” treatments.
- Offers the promise of controlling cost while simultaneously increasing access to healthcare services.
Telehealth Services & Addiction Treatment:
Research has started to explore the effectiveness of using telehealth for addiction treatment. Anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that these services are helpful, due to the fact that patients gain greater access to behavioral health professionals. Telehealth is also more convenient for patients.
Researchers have pointed out that studies exist that explore the benefits of telehealth (telepsychiatry), which include mental health therapy such as counseling. However, the use of telehealth services for addiction treatment is rarely studied.
Some researchers have pointed out that, according to their estimates, only eight studies exist which compare the effectiveness of telehealth as a viable treatment option for substance use disorder and other associated illnesses. These studies usually sampled less than 150 individuals. However, newer research has looked at larger sample sizes at addiction treatment centers located in California.
Findings seem to conclude that treatments delivered through telehealth technologies provides better patient engagement, more convenience and greater access to addiction treatment professionals. Not surprisingly, researchers found that therapies such as individual counseling delivered via videoconferencing technologies was just as effective as more well-established in-person counseling treatments.
Healthcare providers in the clinical study were less confident of the effectiveness of medication management, group counseling as well as intake assessments delivered via telehealth. Yet, like many other studies, additional research is needed.
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