As telemedicine becomes more and more main-stream, healthcare professionals find more ways to utilize the technology for underserved populations. A few such populations include: children with autism, refugees and cancer survivors. Remarkably, an area where we have only just begun to explore the uses of telemedicine for is drug addiction treatment.
The addiction crisis is rampant in the United States, as evidenced by the following statistics:
- The leading cause of accidental death in the US is drug overdose
- Over 500,000 people have died from drug overdoses from 2000 to 2015
- The age range most affected by drug overdoses is 25-54 years
- Six in ten deaths due to drug overdose involved an opioid
Akin to medical specialists, treatment is limited for these patients based on when and where treatment professionals are available; this is where telemedicine could help. Patients could be seen no matter the time of day with telemedicine, and would also have increased flexibility in scheduling their appointments. Telemedicine could also facilitate group therapy and reduce potential stigma from entering/leaving an addiction treatment center. Furthermore, when looking at patient satisfaction of in-person care versus telemedicine, recent studies found no difference.
However, there are challenges and concerns that need to be addressed. Some providers are concerned that without an in-person visit it could be difficult to establish the same level of rapport with patients that is necessary when providing addiction treatment services. There is also some concern regarding the ability to assess non-verbal cues through a video connection. Despite these qualms, qt the end of the day there are far too many people without access to addiction treatment, and telemedicine could help tackle the addiction crisis in the United States.