According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), opioid overdoses stand at the top of the list of injury-related deaths in the US. To date, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and New Mexico are identified as having the most severe opioid problem and the problem is growing in Northern California.
Opioid use has been rising in Lake and Mendocino Counties. Options for treating the growing problem of opioid addiction are somewhat scarce due to a limited number of treatment facilities and the availability of qualified clinicians in both counties. One of the promising solutions to deal with this growing crisis is the use of telehealth and telemedicine.
Telemedicine, or the delivery of health care using telecommunications technology, has the excellent potential to expand access to medication assisted treatment (MAT) programs, especially in underserved and rural areas. It offers the advantage of providing remote provision for direct-to-patient and specialty consultation services.
Support for Patients and Communities Act, a new law, effective as of the 24th October 2018 defines special provisions for Medicare and Medicaid to allow for telemedicine options for treatment. The law addresses telemedicine use and elaborates that states shall be able to seek federal reimbursement under Medicaid for telemedicine services of substance abuse disorders. Approved services include medication assisted treatment, counseling, medication management, and medication adherence.
Telehealth can play a vital role in addressing opioid misuse and abuse and reduce the number of opioid-related deaths. It allows for virtual management of several aspects of substance use disorder for patients, their families, and the care providers. Telemedicine can also improve data sharing, thereby preventing multiple prescriptions from multiple physicians for highly addictive drugs. Most importantly, telehealth can serve more patients as the treatment is remote and in the privacy of patient’s home.
While there have been several advancements on the application and utilization of telehealth as far as the regulatory perspective is concerned, the acceptance level of telehealth still remains low. This is partly because of the lack of awareness and the challenge can be overcome by providing specialized training to the existing staff at the treatment centers as well as creating awareness among general public.
As telemedicine becomes more widely accepted by physicians, patients, and the medical insurance industry, it has the potential to expand needed services to remote and rural areas. With this expansion, patients in isolated remote areas will benefit from the innovative telehealth program which guarantees patient confidentiality. For additional help with understanding the ability of telehealth programs to treat residents with opioid addictions in Lake and Mendocino Counties, go to hopemat.org