Top six ways telemedicine can help fight the opioid public health emergency, recently declared by President Trump

by | Nov 6, 2017 | Blog

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The United States opioid addiction issue has again been brought to the forefront by President Trump’s declaration of a state of public health emergency. Rural America has been hit especially hard by opioid addiction due to a variety of factors. Rural areas and small cities across the country have seen an influx not only in the prevalence of prescription opioids, but illicit ones like heroin.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, four times the number of opioid-involved deaths than in 2000.  A variety of factors have made this serious health threat more prevalent to rural America, but one factor is consistent: The lack of access to treatment.  A maldistribution of both medical addiction specialist – which includes both physicians and substance abuse counselors in large urban centers – makes it challenging for people in rural areas to receive care.  Even though telemedicine is currently being used to bridge the geographic gap to reach patients regardless of location, there is still a huge opportunity to provide much more of these services to help treat addiction.

“Telemedicine is a lifeline to people with addictions in rural communities,” according to Dan Johnson, PhD, Executive Director of Acadia Family Center in Southwest Harbor, Maine. “It enables them to receive the care the desperately need and, literally, is saving lives.”

Sharon Daley, RN at the Maine Seacoast Mission Society, utilizes telemedicine aboard a 76-foot boat called the Sunbeam.

Sharon Daley RN, Director of Island Health for the Maine Seacoast Mission Society utilizes telemedicine aboard a seventy-six foot boat called the Sunbeam.  Once every two weeks, Sharon and the Sunbeam crew provide telemedicine services to patients on three isolated islands and in two land-based telemedicine clinics.  The types of telemedicine services that have or are being provided for opioid addiction include substance abuse counseling and medication management of Suboxone.  Sharon is passionate about the impact the Mission and telemedicine are having.

“Without telemedicine, people simply would not have access to substance abuse services,” Sharon stated.  “For example, missing work for an appointment off the island can cost a sternman his job and the travel cost and time it requires, often makes on-going treatment prohibitive or impossible.  Additionally, some of the most affected by addiction issues are also the families, and in these situations telemedicine is the perfect tool to connect and get them involved.”

Six impactful benefits of leveraging telemedicine
Below, we’ve listed six impactful benefits of leveraging telemedicine to assist the treatment of opioid patients in rural areas:

  1. Connects rural patients in need of treatment, with an addiction specialist from more urban treatment facilities.
  2. Allows the substance abuse care team, which would include the medical assistant, counselor, psychiatrist and primary care physician to coordinate the best possible care for the patient.
  3. Enables on-demand care for behavioral health patients – patients can just click to talk with a specialist, they don’t have to wait for appointments or miss work.
  4. Effectively allows physicians to put together treatment plans through weekly planned video conference consults and manage their care along the way through patient portals.
  5. Reduces very common barriers for addiction treatment – travel and cost.
  6. Provides online training options to help primary care physicians with medication-assistant treatment therapy.

“When the government is confronted with an addiction problem such as this, they clearly need to expand their horizons beyond standard reactive solutions,” commented Eric Bacon, President of AMD Global Telemedicine. “When you consider how telemedicine has helped rural communities access better care for quite some time now, it only makes sense that they put forces behind expanding rural patient’s access to telemedicine in order to fight against this addiction epidemic.”
AMD’s Clinical Assist Series was built with this kind of flexibility in mind, so you can tailor the solution to your specific needs. For more information on our solutions for behavioral health, contact us today.

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