The Pros and Cons of Telemedicine for Addiction Recovery

Over the last few years, telemedicine has become a significant innovation in healthcare. With telemedicine, healthcare is more accessible to patients. Telemedicine has become a valuable diagnostic and treatment tool for those who live in rural areas and others who may not have ready access to clinics or other healthcare facilities. With the ongoing opioid crisis and the need for resources to combat addiction as a whole, telemedicine can provide a valuable tool for addiction recovery.

Telemedicine Defined

Telemedicine is the practice of medicine where both therapist and client communicate via computer, phone, or other means of two-way communication. Clinicians use these methods to assess and diagnose a client’s condition to provide care remotely. Telemedicine offers an option for clients who live in rural or remote areas or in places where there are limited treatment options. Telemedicine is also used amongst health professionals themselves to consult with each other.

In What Ways Can Telemedicine for Addiction Recovery Be Applied?

A significant benefit of utilizing telemedicine in addiction recovery is it offers flexibility that helps meets the needs of each client. One of the oldest ways of using telemedicine in addiction recovery is via telephone communication. Telephone communications are still being used as part of continuing care or aftercare plan for those clients who have completed in-person drug treatment, and even offers utility as a primary care tool.

Another application of telemedicine in addiction recovery is video conferencing through personal computers or dedicated telecommunications equipment. Additionally, telemedicine services can offer support through text communication. With the growing popularity of phone apps, some treatment facilities have developed specific apps for patients to utilize on their smartphones or tablets.

The Advantages of Telemedicine

The utilization of telemedicine in addiction recovery is both numerous and promising. First and foremost, it is of great benefit for clients in rural areas where treatment options are limited. Also, telemedicine can be of benefit for those addicts who may be homebound and are unable to make it into a drug treatment facility.  Additionally, telemedicine options may be beneficial for those who are physically disabled.

Additionally, telemedicine services can be very beneficial to those who have completed treatment and are in an aftercare program. The access patients have to counselors, and other treatment professionals can provide the extra support they need to stay committed to their recovery. Telemedicine can also offer the motivation an addict needs to enter treatment, who would otherwise fear the stigma of beginning treatment. 

The Disadvantages of Telemedicine

While telemedicine for addiction treatment has some definite advantages, some significant cons must be considered. First and foremost, performing telemedicine services may require special equipment that can be a substantial investment. Secondly, these services may not be available for all treatment facilities, and some counselors and other addiction treatment staff may not be comfortable with telemedicine counseling. Additionally, some patients may not be technically savvy and may have difficulty using telemedicine technology.

Since drug and alcohol addiction is a complex condition, telemedicine may not be the proper channel for diagnosis and treatment—especially in the case of dual diagnosis. Along those lines, addiction treatment staff would be unable to order tests or conduct further assessments for the simple fact the patient is not physically present. Ultimately, telemedicine lacks person-to-person interaction, and the patient-staff interaction changes dramatically. As a result, this practice is very isolating and can drive the patient further away from the help they need.

Should You Consider Telemedicine?

If you or a loved one are struggling with drug addiction, would telemedicine be a useful tool to help in your recovery efforts? Over the past few years, telemedicine services have been expanding, and some treatment facilities are adding this to their list of services. While it can provide some benefits (especially in an aftercare setting), you need to take a more in-depth look at what a treatment facility has to offer for programs. Most treatment facilities offer medical detox services, individual and group counseling and therapy, and life skills training, therapies that are best suited for an in-person setting. Depending on the severity of a substance abuse disorder, telemedicine may or may not be a suitable option. Take the time to do extensive research to find the treatment options that best fit your unique and specific needs.