Telehealth and Telemedicine in Addiction Treatment

Telemedicine refers to any health information communicated over long distances between a patient and a treatment professional. In modern times and developed countries, medical access may seem simple, but this service allows those who can’t travel the chance to receive valuable medical services.

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History of Telehealth and Telemedicine

Telehealth is a general term that refers to both clinical and non-clinical applications of technology, like scheduling appointments online. Telemedicine refers specifically to clinical uses of long distance technology, like diagnosing a patient over the phone. The early days of telephones and radio began the idea that this new technology could help people receive medical advice and counsel. Doctors could communicate with remote patients over the phone or ships at sea through their radio. As hubs for medical treatment in remote areas, hospital use Telemedicine regularly. One of the first uses of Telemedicine in hospitals started when psychiatric wards set up camera systems to allow out of state psychiatric professionals to observe patient behavior.

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Video and the Internet

Audio based technology like radio and telephones expanded the degree to which doctors could assist others, but not to the point we see today. The advent of shareable video widened the door, and the introduction of the internet provided a platform where people could contact care providers instantly. Both video and audio can be streamed through the internet allowing professionals to access people they otherwise couldn’t reach.

Behavioral Telehealth

Mental health and Telehealth harmonize well, allowing counselors to hold sessions online rather than in person. Some addiction rehab facilities are leveraging this technique in treating chemical dependencies in their clients. Where some people may otherwise avoid treatment because of the time commitment, online or phone options give them an opportunity to get help while maintaining vital life activities like work or family care.

Seemingly minute services like text message appointment reminders reduce dropout rates in rehab programs. Clinicians can use these features, not only to perform mundane tasks like reminders, but to further interact with their clients. Reaching out to someone in recovery helps keep them accountable and on track, where they otherwise may have slipped back into bad habits.

Specific Methodologies

The two most common uses of Telehealth in addiction medicine include:

  • Text message contact
  • Computer Screenings

While less flashy than video conferencing, these implementations of technology in the rehab process ultimately increase the amount of face-to-face time possible between clients and counselors. Research shows that Telehealth shines in situations where it makes treatment . Rather than someone missing or avoiding a therapy appointment, they receive a text that gets them to go. Instead of counselors spending time collecting demographic data and other information, patients can fill out computer screening applications beforehand.

Smoking cessation is one of the more popular subjects of addiction Telehealth. The ubiquity of cigarettes when compared to illegal drugs can tempt long-time smokers back into their habit when living out their day to day lives. Having an online resource can keep them accountable and working with care professionals in order to succeed in their recovery journey.

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The need for long distance addiction therapy is more apparent during this pandemic than ever before. Substance use disorders and dependencies thrive on the kind of loneliness and lack of accountability that people experience during quarantine. When in recovery, isolation and nebulous scheduling can interrupt the plans put into place to stop addictive tendencies. Many facilities are still offering inpatient rehab, but group meetings have been seriously interrupted by the mandates to self-isolate.

Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have started pushing for more well supported virtual meeting opportunities. For people post-treatment and entering long-term recovery, these types of resources are vital in keeping their success going.


While Telehealth and Telemedicine services help bridge some gaps, they’re not perfect. Some useful functionalities require specific software and hardware that some rehabs don’t have access to. Also, not everyone has regular and reliable access to a computer or phone, especially if they’re in a dire situation regarding addiction. Making sure both the healthcare provider and recipient are able to access Telehealth services is crucial in a successful interaction.

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