While the opioid crisis in America is showing no signs of slowing down, there may be something else to alleviate the pain of what may be the worst drug crisis in this country’s history: Telemedicine. The latest report released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), shows that 1.32 million Americans needed care due to opioid-related illnesses, but perhaps a more startling statistic from the report shows an astounding 99% increase in emergency room visits between 2005-2014 due to opioid- related complaints.
The report reflects the geographic locations most at-risk and shows those located in urban areas are more likely to be treated in a hospital than those in rural areas, suggesting that lack of access to medical care is a factor in the uptick in death rates in rural areas of the country. The good news is that studies have also shown that telemedicine could lend a hand to rural residents struggling to find treatment that has in many cases been life saving.
“Using technology for educational opportunities and medical care can provide services that are often unavailable in rural areas,” Tom Vilsack said during the RUS-DLT announcement in his final months serving as Agriculture secretary under the Obama administration last year. “For example, opioid and other substance misuse disproportionately affect rural areas, and telemedicine is proving to be an effective tool for treating patients when experts otherwise would be unavailable. Hospitals, schools and training centers across the country are successfully using telecommunications to deliver specialized care to area residents.”
Drug addiction is a behavioral illness and can be treated through self-restraint, relapse prevention, and rehabilitation, but most patients need psychiatric help and counseling to fully recover. Through telemedicine, doctors and specialists can connect with patients by interactive audio and other electronic media to diagnose, consult with, and even treat patients. Telemedicine has been proven to be highly effective in rural areas, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, those regions of the country inundated with patients and understaffed with doctors.
The epidemic itself has been compounded by the lack of access to psychiatrists and addiction specialists – an imbalance that telehealth is helping to alleviate. “Scientific literature teaches us that opioid use disorder (addiction) is a chronic disease, and there are effective treatments available,” said Dr. Todd Young, owner of Main Street Medical Clinic. “Those suffering from the disease of addiction tell us when they need help, they don’t want to hear ‘OK, but there is a 3-6 month waiting time.’ They need to get help when they seek help.” With telehealth, doctors and specialists can connect virtually to any patient who comes forward for help, breaking down the barriers to accessing addictions treatment. Telemedicine is a treatment that can help anyone, and is literally just a phone call away.
To learn more about how to fund a telemedicine program, check out Polycom’s eBook on grant assistance and best practices here.