America’s war with the coronavirus has forced many medical and healthcare professionals to adapt to changing times. One of the first moves that many rehabs made in the early weeks of COVID-19 was switching to a telehealth platform to deliver treatment services. While this was difficult or unnecessary for many inpatient rehabs and residential treatment centers, who have a contained community of patients on campus, many providers at less intensive levels of care, such as partial hospitalization (PHP) and intensive outpatient (IOP) programs, pivoted to providing treatment through online therapy and telehealth platforms.
For example, here at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, when the COVID-19 public health pandemic began, we immediately switched both our daytime and evening IOP programs to telehealth, utilizing the platform Zoom to make sure that patients continued to receive group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, and psychiatry sessions. We found many benefits to delivering care via an online therapy telehealth platform, as well as some issues. Overall, the switch over to telehealth IOP at MARC was efficient, smooth, and fairly seamless so that no patient had their addiction treatment interrupted.
We did find out that telehealth and online therapy worked very well in the beginning. While we had some concerns as an organization how it would impact patient care and the delivery of services, we found that many patients actually enjoyed working online with their therapist. We saw levels of engagement in our IOP services as high as they were in person. We also saw patients, quarantined from the outside world but able to connect to others in treatment, begin to develop connections with other patients outside of the group setting, creating their own personal zoom meetups and support groups.
However, as COVID-19 and the use of telehealth continued, we noticed a pattern developing. Those patients that had initially been in treatment in-person and then switched to telehealth seemed to do better than new patients that were admitted to MARC directly into the online IOP platform. While patients that had been in-person continued to engage and felt a deep connection to the program, the therapists, and the other patients, those new patients that accessed services directly into the telehealth platform did not seem to have the same level of success. While these new patients did engage physically, meaning they showed up to group and individual sessions, many did not have the same level of emotional attachment, engagement, or connection. They were there but they did not seem to be able to get out of treatment what those patients who had been engaged with in-person services did while receiving the same services.
We believe that the human connection is vitally important to addiction treatment. We also believe that the level of interaction and experiential modalities we use in our programs at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center are not as easily or effectively deliverable through an online therapy or telehealth platform as they are in person. However, we also believe and have seen firsthand, the many benefits of telehealth and online therapy, and are making plans to incorporate some of the benefits that we have found moving forward, certainly to be in use as COVID-19 continues, but even to be utilized once we get through this pandemic.
There is no doubt that digital health technology and telehealth platforms provide incredible benefits for patients in addiction treatment, both directly delivering primary care services and supporting continuing care.
Benefits of telehealth technology for addiction, substance use disorders, and co-occurring disorders
- Patients can easily access treatment, whether in terms of decreasing travel to and from a facility, or allowing patients outside the local area to receive services
- Reduces barriers to care. Some of the biggest barriers to treatment are inability to get there on time due to job schedules or responsibilities, travel, or family responsibilities like childcare. With telehealth services, these barriers are removed
- No delays or cancellations. Outpatient treatment services can be interrupted due to inclement weather or unexpected conflicts like automobile accidents. However, the utilization of telehealth allows for therapy and treatment sessions to go on without these interruptions
- Proximity to all impacted family members. Addiction impacts an entire family unit. So, the use of telehealth services for an identified patient that lives with their family (be it a spouse or parents or children) can allow for family sessions to be easily accessible as the identified members are all under one roof. For those families that live separately, the same benefits of accessibility apply, as everyone can easily make sessions that include all loved ones in therapy
- Health and safety. Especially during the ongoing coronavirus, telehealth offers a level of health and safety for patients that would not be afforded at in-person sessions, even when attending treatment in a facility following the most stringent health and safety protocols put forth by the CDC and local health departments
While the addiction treatment industry continues to navigate COVID-19 and the understanding of how to best integrate telehealth services into standard and traditional treatment settings, it is good to understand that there is no question that online therapy and telehealth offers benefits to patients. Patient’s are traditionally satisfied with the services they receive from a telehealth platform. Learning to understand how addiction treatment services can remain as effective through digital technology platforms is the next step for providers to understand and adopt as the addiction treatment field moves into the future.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.