Telehealth, telemedicine, and mHealth – you hear these terms often, but what do they mean? Telemedicine was initially developed as a way to treat patients who were located in remote places, far away from hospitals or in areas with shortages of health professionals. The terms telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably. However, telehealth differs in that it refers to a broader scope of remote health care services (non-clinical) than telemedicine.
While telemedicine technology, such as video conferencing, is still widely used today to address patient’s health needs from diagnosis to prescription, more advanced telehealth or mHealth (mobile health) platforms are increasingly becoming a valuable tool for addiction recovery patients and clinicians. Join us as we discuss the benefits and challenges in using this health technology and how innovations in telehealth are helping to coordinate care for those in addiction recovery.
Telehealth and mHealth – The Break Down
Telehealth refers to all forms of healthcare by the use of technology (video chat or virtual visits). In contrast, mHealth refers to technologies like smartphone and tablet apps that allow consumers to capture their health data without a doctor’s assistance. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines mHealth as “the use of mobile and wireless devices (cell phones, tablets) to improve health outcomes, health research, and health care services.”
The Benefits and Challenges in Telehealth Care
For most patients and healthcare professionals, the inherent benefits of telehealthcare far outweigh any negatives, including:
- Being able to reach patients, especially those in remote areas with limited or no access to reliable transportation.
- Reducing costs for patients. Patients save money and time (especially time off from work) by utilizing a video visit than an actual in-office visit. On average, a routine doctor’s visit costs a patient approximately $100, compared to $45 for a virtual visit (Forbes).
- Physicians benefit by having less overhead, administrative, and staffing costs associated with an in-office visit.
- Providing convenience and a continuum of care when there are gaps in time between visits.
Conversely, in terms of the practical components of this technology, there are issues for both healthcare professionals and patients such as:
- Remote prescribing – states are trying to figure out how to use telehealth to prescribe medications (especially narcotics) to patients and still follow proper compliance and HIPAA laws.
- Insurance Coverage – health providers are wondering how they will be paid by offering remote services to specific patients, especially those covered through Medicare and Medicaid. For example, Medicare only pays for specific physician services provided through a telehealth system. Patients are also dealing with additional “virtual visit” costs that individual insurance companies will not cover.
Using Telehealth in the Addiction Recovery Community
As stated in mHealthIntelligence, “telehealth and mHealth are giving healthcare providers a well-stocked toolbox to treat people with substance abuse disorders and addiction issues, many of whom require around-the-clock, on-demand support, and care coordination to stay on a treatment plan and avoid relapses.”
One of the driving forces behind using this technology in the addiction community was the onset of the opioid epidemic. “Healthcare providers started looking to treatment plans that integrated opioid addiction control with behavioral healthcare and using platforms that not only span populations but can provide personalized care. This is where connected health technology made the biggest impact (mHealthIntelligence).” Since then, providers are finding many different uses for connected care in the addiction recovery space, including:
- Digital platforms that allow healthcare providers, family members, or support group members to offer messages of support.
- Telemedicine and telehealth platforms that enable patients to engage in virtual visits with their care provider, counselor, or a mental health specialist from the anonymity of their own home.
- Telemedicine platforms that enable rural providers to collaborate with substance abuse experts and mental health providers on the latest treatments, discuss tough cases or chat with peers.
- Apps and wearables that measure medication specifications in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs.
- mHealth apps that give users access to coping skills and care resources, peer support, and real-time access to caregivers in times of crisis.
Collaboration among multiple healthcare providers, clinics, and organizations that address addiction and mental health disorders are crucial. Telehealth, mHealth, and telemedicine offer additional care solutions that are not only saving time and money – but are preventing potential relapse and saving lives.
“Addiction is a disease of isolation, after all. Its polar opposite is not sobriety but connection, which is the very thing that telehealth advances can exponentially multiply (mHealthIntelligence).” At Silver Lining Recovery, our professional clinical team is comprised of individuals who have worked in the drug and mental health sector for more than 30 years and are knowledgeable about the latest in advanced treatment modalities. Our customized programs include several different post-rehab services, including SMART Recovery, 12-Step programs, and a variety of counseling services as well as our affordable outpatient services for those who feel they have a substance use disorder or addiction. Knowing that we are here with you every step of the way will hopefully encourage you or a loved one to get the necessary services and support needed to live a healthy and full life in sobriety. Call Silver Lining Recovery today at (866) 448-4563 to get started.