Perhaps more than most, the field of behavioral health requires some degree of looking back. Considerations of one’s history, family circumstances and life experiences are often more important when treating addiction than the approaches to treating other chronic diseases.
However, as we enter this new year, the behavioral health field finds itself looking forward more than ever to welcome the advancements and arrival of the first generation of innovative technologies.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, 92% of U.S. adults own a cellular phone (68% of those are smart phones), 73% of American households have at least one computer and 45% of Americans have a tablet computer.
The Pew Research Center also reports that the cell phone is the most quickly adopted consumer technology in the history of the world.
Why is this Important?
At no time in our history have American’s been more open to technology and more accessible because of it.
Telehealth technology encompasses the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.
Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media and terrestrial and wireless communications. As we enter 2016, behavioral telehealth technology has arrived and has begun to influence the field including the provision of addiction treatment.
Fewer than 20% of the approximate 22 million Americans who need treatment for addiction actually receive treatment. With the rising numbers of people addicted to opioids and the annual increase of deaths from addiction, the situation will only worsen and the underserved population will only intensify until we do something differently.
Filling the massive gap of Americans who need treatment is an enormous task. There is not the infrastructure to treat so many and to do so in an inpatient setting would cost close to half a trillion dollars.
The strategy to successfully treating chronic diseases is to place a heavier emphasis on maintenance which will reduce the volume of expensive treatment encounters. Telehealth technology is the fitting, resolute antidote.
The field conclusively agrees that effective treatment for addiction is demonstrated by long-term recovery which requires a time and labor intensive effort – measuring bio-markers and prescribing medication is not an option.
It is also understood that the period following intense treatment is a particularly vulnerable time for the newly sober addict as he/she often returns to the geographic area where they were active in their addiction.
In this case, familiarity is not always favorable. This transition from treatment to sustained recovery introduces many challenges and the addict is at high risk to return to a lifestyle of addiction.
Data shows that the provision of extended professional recovery support during the tenuous time following treatment dramatically increases the ability to maintain long-term recovery – a scenario impeccably primed for telehealth.
Fittingly, the increased rates of recovery result in a decreased demand for a return to a treatment facility which equates to significant cost savings for both patient and payer. The provision of extended recovery support via telehealth technology will greatly enhance the success rates of addiction treatment while substantially lowering the costs.
The economics and infrastructure of addiction treatment are well suited for the cost-effectiveness and convenience of telehealth technology.
An acute-only treatment model cannot effectively treat a chronic disease. However, with its characteristics of unlimited scalability, data-driven precision medicine and resource efficiencies, telehealth has the ability for treatment providers, counselors and healthcare professionals to extend their reach and increase their effectiveness.
For example, by extending remote recovery support services to individuals striving to maintain post-treatment sobriety, treatment providers help to prevent a return to active addiction and a potential return trip to residential treatment.
The result is a trifecta achievement: payers operate with optimal financial efficiency, providers are able to empirically demonstrate their rates of success which breeds future opportunities for their facilities and patients increase their likelihood of sustaining long-term recovery which is what our nation so desperately craves. The only long-term, sustainable healthcare model is one in which the needs of the patient, provider and payer are all effectively met.