The Role of Telehealth in Addiction Treatment

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The spread of the coronavirus last year brought about many changes to society and individuals. One of the biggest impacts affected people in need of medical and therapeutic appointments. Many discussions and decisions relating to defining “essential businesses” that were allowed to stay open took place. The role of telehealth in addiction treatment moved into the spotlight. 

Social distancing caused many licensed counselors and related medical professionals to close up shop and no longer offer in-person appointments. The advent of telehealth appointments swept the country. Telehealth offers patients the ability to see their medical professionals via online programs such as Zoom and Skype. They may also employ smartphone technology, phone calls, and texting. 

The Benefits of Telehealth Treatment

Telehealth in addiction treatment allows people to continue accessing essential treatment. This proves invaluable for those in need of treatment related to addiction to drugs and alcohol. Skipping even just one appointment can cause a person to backslide in their recovery.

Telehealth appointments also offer both clients and professionals the ability to avoid potentially dangerous in-person contact. They remain in the safety of their own homes while still continuing the ongoing work of recovery. Staying socially distanced from each other provides a safety net for the physical health of both the clients and their treatment team members. This benefit also impacts the loved ones around whom they spend time. 

Utilizing telehealth in addiction treatment isn’t limited just to regularly scheduled treatment appointments. A client who typically sees their therapist in person may benefit from having the option to do shortened appointments via telehealth. This can include checking in for a brief session or asking for counseling during a crisis that cannot wait until their next appointment. Clients can also use telehealth to make and cancel appointments, as well as receive reminders about upcoming sessions. 

Treatment Professionals Now Face a Dilemma as Society Reopens

The COVID-19 vaccine has begun wide distribution to millions of Americans. Society has started the process of reopening and social distancing rules are being relaxed. This development presents treatment professionals with the question of how to apply this to their own practices. 

Many clinicians have spent a year or more offering only telehealth appointments. They now must consider if they want to continue this policy for the foreseeable future. Other professionals look towards developing a hybrid solution. This entails offering clients a choice between in-person and telehealth sessions. This allows everyone the ability to ease back into face-to-face sessions if they choose that option. Many other treatment providers look forward to returning to an in-person-only practice. 

Deciding on what works best for each professional depends on a few things. They need to consider their own career needs and comfort levels. They also must look at what any changes in their policies will mean to their clients. Some clients may have become comfortable attending sessions from their homes. They may need encouragement to return to office visits. For those clients who have only had telehealth appointments, the reticence to change may prove palpable. 

Telehealth Policies Enacted in Several Arenas

Many support groups, such as 12-step based groups, adapted their policies during the first year of the pandemic. Groups that previously only offered in-person meetings recognized that their members needed an alternative. The pandemic itself swept in a rise in alcohol and drug use as people struggled to deal with the anxiety and unknowns of life during COVID-19. 

In reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, Medicare became more flexible in their payments for telehealth appointments. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued new guidance that allows all stable patients to request 28 days of take-home doses of their medication for opioid use disorder. SAMHSA and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) altered the specifics of prescribing medications due to the presence of the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

This action resulted in allowing DEA-registered practitioners to prescribe controlled substances to patients they have not yet evaluated in person. Practitioners of telehealth in addiction treatment can take advantage of this, provided they follow specific guidelines. These include issuing a prescription for legitimate medical purposes and in accordance with applicable Federal and State law. Telehealth communication must also be conducted using real-time, two-way interactive communication in an audio-visual manner. 

Medicaid also addressed the changing needs of patients during the pandemic. Policy changes they adapted include:

  • Allowing for telephone sessions with clinicians when video-enabled virtual sessions are not possible. 
  • Allowing clinicians to treat out-of-state Medicaid participants 
  • Temporarily putting on hold certain types of provider enrollment and revalidation requirements
  • Temporarily halting a requirement that doctors and other health care providers be licensed in the state in which they provide services. They must have an equivalent license in another state. 

Rehab Treatment in California

Young people who struggle with addiction to drugs or alcohol benefit from long-term programs that address all aspects of their recovery. We treat the whole person, including substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health diagnoses. Our clinical and holistic treatment modalities offer a well-rounded approach to learning to embrace sober living.

Launch Centers offers treatment that helps young people embrace recovery, plan their careers and education, and learn valuable life skills. Contact us today to get started. 

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