Evernorth Uses Bicycle Health to Virtually Treat Opioid Use Disorder - MedCity News

A a new study in JAMA Psychiatry highlights the benefits of telehealth in the treatment of people with opiate use disorder. According to the study, virtual care during the pandemic reduced individuals’ risk of overdose and increased the use of medication treatment. The American Telemedicine Association called the study results “a strong signal to policymakers that telehealth can and should be a permanent part of health care delivery.”​

Although telehealth has had an impact on how people with substance use disorder (SUD) receive treatment, the technology’s benefits have been concentrated in specific areas. The main way telehealth has improved treatment is by increasing access. Since the start of the pandemic, telehealth has opened the door to treatment for many people who might have had difficulty getting care, such as those who found it difficult to travel to an office due to distance, transportation, or physical limitations.

In addition, the technology is valuable for reaching at-risk populations. This may include someone new to treatment or who has been in treatment but has missed appointments. In the latter case, telehealth gives the consultant, physician, or care coordinator a way to connect with the at-risk person that is better than an audio-only phone call. The provider can find out how the person is doing, their environment and if they are safe.

A telehealth appointment can be a more convenient alternative to in-person visits for a patient who is on the fence about whether to engage in treatment.

Recognizing the risks of technology

While there are benefits to telehealth, there are also risks in relying solely on virtual solutions to treat people with SUDs. Such decisions can be isolating, and isolation is one of the greatest risks for recidivism in this population. Being alone for extended periods can cause a cycle that is difficult to break. Over time, this can worsen the individual’s condition.

Establishing personal connections is also more difficult through telehealth, and personal connections play an important role in SUD treatment. The social aspect of coming to a group session and talking with others over the coffee machine – or just coming to the clinic or doctor’s office for a visit – can play a key role in recovery. These social interactions are difficult to duplicate in a telehealth platform.

In virtual meetings, providers may miss subtle signs that indicate a person may be struggling. While providers can get a general idea of ​​how a person is doing and feeling on a monitor, they can’t always see the gestures and other fine details that become apparent while sitting with the person in person. There’s an intangible connection that comes from being in the same room.

Safety is also an issue with telehealth, and providers can better ensure an individual’s safety with an in-person visit. In the clinic, the provider can control who – or not – accompanies a person into the room during their visit. With a telehealth appointment, the provider is not always aware of other people who may be in the room. At best, these people can distract or affect an individual’s ability to be transparent about what they are experiencing. At worst, they can pose a safety threat. Sometimes the clinic is the only safe and calm environment in which a person experiences SUD.

Finally, it can be difficult to encourage accountability with a virtual platform. Conversely, in the personal visit one knows that people expect him to show up, give a urine sample, connect with others, discuss his situation, etc. It is more difficult to hide or minimize challenges in an in-person environment than in a virtual interaction.

Marriage virtual and in person treatment

By using a hybrid treatment model that relies on a combination of on-site visits and telehealth appointments, providers can provide the best possible care for people throughout their recovery. The convenience of telehealth can improve access to care and maintain frequent touchpoints, while the warmth of in-person visits can foster safe, personal connections and greater accountability.

Within a hybrid approach, a provider can balance the amount of telehealth versus in-person care based on the individual’s treatment and psychosocial needs. Considering when to use which type of care can ensure that an individual is set up for success and has the best chance for optimal outcomes.

As part of a hybrid approach, providers must address the mind, body, and spirit, helping the individual address the challenges of SUD more holistically. Once they can clearly see the way forward, they can begin to make progress. As a person’s circumstances change, providers can work with them to find the right mix of treatment options for their unique conditions.

A hybrid approach offers the best of both worlds

While telehealth has provided many benefits during the pandemic, it can be a lonely and sterile way to receive treatment. People with SUD who receive treatment only through telehealth may miss opportunities to connect with others to support the recovery process. By taking a hybrid approach that addresses addiction holistically, people with SUDs can get the appropriate level of care as quickly as possible while also engaging with the community and holding themselves accountable on their road to recovery.

Photo: sorbetto, Getty Images

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