The opioid epidemic killed more than 33,000 people in 2015. It has swept across the USA and is a national affliction that has hit cities on the West Coast to bedroom communities in the Northeast. In November 2016, the Surgeon General’s report indicated that 1 in 7 in the USA would face substance addiction. The economic impact of drug and alcohol misuse and addiction amounts to $442 billion each year — topping diabetes at $245 billion. Estimates are that more than 23 million people live with addiction, yet only 10% of them go for treatment, and treatment relapse rates for heroin and opiate addiction hover around 90%, according to research. One study found that of 109 subjects who had achieved sobriety in heroin rehab, 99 relapsed. Of the 99 people who relapsed, 64 did so within one week. So, what is the answer?

As we move into 2017, repeals to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are forcing insurance companies to focus on ways to reduce payments and obligations to those who have a reoccurrence, who come back to do another 30 or 90 days in an addiction treatment facility. Telehealth offers some solutions, for both the insurance and addiction treatment centers, to engage with individuals and foster relapse prevention. Telehealth solutions can reach out and touch people in cities, urban and rural areas, with a host of services that support and connect individuals. With the advent of mobile phones, iPads, and tablets, reaching out to people via telephone, email, text message, video, or by going to an online platform via PC or smartphone is simpler. Services offered include Addiction Recovery Coaching, Cognitive-Based Mindfulness, and Peer Navigation support to everything from housing, health services, family counseling, group discussions, and lifelines to friends and relatives. Telehealth mobility apps offer individuals specific reminders, outlines for goals, objectives, and accountability. They can work in tandem with the treatment programs that “graduate” people into an aftercare treatment plan, so that the program provides ongoing therapeutic support, check-ins, early detection, outreach and guidance to avoid relapse. Connections that we make to recognize and carry out the right choices are the most important elements of recovery. They help individuals to navigate the most challenging of circumstances. Telehealth offers tremendous potential for people and better outcomes, at lower costs to insurance companies, as people navigate themselves through long-term recovery.

“Every $1 invested in viable treatment options for substance use disorders saves $4 in healthcare costs and $7 in criminal justice costs” Vivek Murthy – U.S. Surgeon General.

For those that are interested in developing Telehealth programs, expect large supportive changes in insurance coverage. During the next year, expect Insurance companies to provide continued support for Telehealth, as active participants and investors in technologies that provide new approaches for addiction treatment aftercare.

If you are considering a Telehealth services platform for your treatment center, you can either build it in-house or outsource it. In either case, you need to write a business plan and operating model for your treatment facility and do your homework. Important considerations are HIPAA compliance, the simplicity of features, functionality, costs to service, technology, upgrades, staff training, process/workflow, ability to forecast, offer services and receipt of payment. As for the platform, it makes little sense for an addiction treatment facility to invest in an HIPAA-compliant platform, so outsourcing some or all of your Telehealth service is the right approach. There are many players offering services on a SaaS basis that you can consider. Some are good, or better, considering your needs and the complexity of applications. Most importantly, keep it simple at first and be flexible. Technology will change, just like people, places, and things. New applications and approaches will surface, along with opportunities and innovations. Just stay calm and seek support, taking one step at a time! 🙂

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