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Telemedicine as Method to Treat the Opioid Crisis



In an effort to address the current nationwide opioid crisis, President Trump has specified telemedicine as a potential tool to increase access to treatment.


He stated in his declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency that it “allows for expanded access to telemedicine services, including services involving remote prescribing of medicine.”


According to data provided by The White House, an estimated of 2 million Americans had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids in 2016.


One of the significant challenges that arise in facing opioid and substance abuse is that treatment requires substantial investments, and it is not always available to everyone.


Opioid and narcotic abuse it is most common in rural areas, and unfortunately, these treatment facilities are scarce and have not been able to keep up with the demand in these areas.


In a HIMSS article, “Telehealth as Means to Diagnose and Treat Opioid Abuse,” the authors argue that in rural areas may be particularly susceptible to opioid abuse, “based on associated social determinants of health including poor housing, poverty, and unemployment.”


Jamey Lister, an assistant professor and social worker at Wayne State University, in his essay published in The Conversation, he his thoughts shares about the role of telemedicine in the opioid crisis.


Lister stated that people living in rural areas not only have limited access to opioid treatment clinics or providers who prescribe opioid treatment medication, but they also have to travel long distances to access treatment.


“Many may feel ashamed or stigmatized if they seek out opioid treatment in their local community,” said Lister.


That susceptibility along with the lack of treatment facilities, and medical specialists makes it more challenging to battle opioid abuse. 


So telemedicine only makes sense as a new and creative way for diagnosis and treatment of opioid and narcotics abuse. Although The White House has not provided with any specific details on how telemedicine services will be funded, we know that they agree that telemedicine technology will be significantly helpful in the battle against the opioid crisis. 


With the help of telemedicine technology physicians located remotely can provide patients with a variety of services including patient screening, monitor medication intake, provide assessments using face-to-face technology, therapy sessions, ongoing relapse prevention services, and access to help 24/7. 


Patients will be able to access care teams, reduce commute times to treatment facilities, be prescribed the needed medications without errors, access to education on how to prevent relapse, and connect with specialists.


Telemedicine and digital health show promising results for those suffering from opioid and narcotics addiction. There is no denying that it is a logical and cost-effective way to fix the current crisis. Policy reform along with expanding telehealth access to those who need it the most, there is hope that the opioid crisis can end.


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