How Telehealth is Used to Address the Growing Opioid Epidemic

By Sylvia Romm, MD, Vice President of Clinical Transformation, American Well; part of the HIMSS Interoperability Showcase™ initiative

HIMSS Interoperability Showcase

The HIMSS Interoperability Showcase, part of the HIMSS Global Conference & Exhibition, demonstrates interoperability – the ability for different technology systems to communicate – in real-time with actual products in the marketplace. The following guest post shares the impact seamless data exchange can have on patients, providers and caregivers.

In 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency in response to the growing opioid epidemic. According to HHS, roughly 11.4 million people misuse prescription opioids and an estimated 130 people die each day from opioid-related drug overdoses – including prescription pain killers, heroin and synthetic opioids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse is $78.6 billion per year. Opioid addiction also has immeasurable impacts on those who are fighting the disease, as well as their loved ones who are trying to support and help them through the addiction. In response to this growing epidemic, HHS developed a five-point strategy to combat the opioid epidemic. One of the five strategy points is centered on improving access to prevention, treatment and recovery support services. Telehealth has begun to play a significant role in expanding access to the prevention and treatment of opioid addiction, both in rural and urban areas.

Government Support of Telehealth for Opioid Addiction Treatment

In 2017, the CDC announced that the rates of drug overdose deaths in rural areas had surpassed rates in urban areas. To help combat opioid addiction in rural communities, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave priority to 2018 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program applicants who were using innovative projects to address the opioid epidemic in rural areas.

This September, the U.S. Senate passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which includes more than 70 bills related to the research, treatment and prevention of opioid abuse by making changes to state Medicaid programs and Medicare requirements. This act includes several telehealth provisions for improving patient access to opioid abuse treatment.

Telehealth usage to address the opioid epidemic seems to have the full support of the U.S. government, and healthcare organizations are quickly embracing the technology to better deliver care to patients.

How the Industry is Addressing Addiction through Telehealth

While not opioid-specific, Children’s Health, a pediatric health system headquartered in Dallas, Texas, is utilizing its telehealth program to aid in teen substance abuse recovery. Historically, Children’s Health’s substance abuse program reported low compliance rates because patients typically needed to find time in their schedules to visit clinics three times a week. With telemedicine as an option, patients can complete their individual visit and family visits remotely, resulting in positive feedback and improved compliance rates.

Netsmart, a company that designs, builds and delivers electronic health records (EHRs), is working with healthcare organizations across the country to expand opioid treatment via telehealth. Netsmart has partnered with one of the largest and most comprehensive behavioral health and psychiatric hospital systems in Alabama to expand access to substance use treatment. Netsmart has embedded American Well’s telehealth solution into its human services EHR platform that has been purpose-built for behavioral health and addiction treatment. Through American Well’s telemedicine tablets, clinician specialists can conduct remote addiction therapy consults with patients. This integrated workflow enables the delivery of timely access to high-demand addiction specialists that otherwise would not be accessible.

Netsmart and a client in New York have taken a different approach with telehealth to ensure reliable access to substance use treatment by deploying specialized vans to go out and meet their patients. Providers travel in the vans equipped with American Well telemedicine tablets that are integrated into the Netsmart EHR and connect the patient with a medication assisted treatment provider who can provide behavioral counseling. In addition to telemedicine carts, the vans also include an area to perform urine tests and a refrigerator to keep samples cold until the van returns to the lab.

As more healthcare organizations like Children’s Health and Netsmart utilize telehealth to treat substance abuse, patient access to prevention and treatment will improve across the country. To learn more about substance abuse telehealth workflows, stop by the Interoperability Showcase at HIMSS 2019—booth #9100-10. During the showcase, American Well and Netsmart will demo a live workflow for substance abuse treatment. You can also visit American Well’s main booth, #4031, to learn more about our telemedicine carts, solutions and service lines.

Sponsored content. The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.


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