At North Jersey Recovery Center, we offer telehealth options and services for our clients. We know that in-person sessions may not always be possible or best. So, we work to help provide our clients with the best of care using technology. Our facility offers outpatient, intensive outpatient, and partial-care services.

The Importance of Telehealth Services

The field of addiction treatment presents a promising setting for telemedicine use. Because addiction is a chronic disorder, clinicians need methods to stay in touch with patients over protracted periods.

Because telemedicine removes the obstructions of time and distance, it has great potential for augmenting treatment and recovery for people with substance use disorders (SUDs). Substance use disorders are described as recurrent use of drugs or alcohol. People with SUDs generally fail to meet work, home, or school responsibilities because of their addiction. 

Telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth increases a patient’s access to services and can give the necessary support. This is especially true when they are outside of a medical setting and making decisions to use or not to use an addictive substance. In-person contacts between patients and doctors would be limited to scheduled appointments or group sessions.

Telemedicine applications (apps) that send health information from one place to another establish new connections between providers and their patients. It gives patients a feeling that their illness is being followed more closely; they are given the ability to take part in their own treatment plan and that they have not been forgotten by their doctor.


Telemedicine Removes Barriers

By removing the barriers of geography, time, and stigma, telemedicine can improve access to addiction recovery services. 

  • Patients in rural areas who had to drive long distances can now receive addiction treatment services inside their own homes or at a local health care provider. 
  • Patients can also avoid the perceived stigma of being recognized as a patient at a treatment facility.
  • Counselors are typically not available when the patient needs them most–outside the treatment framework. Telemedicine lengthens the providers’ availability and gives patients prompt support.

Electronic Treatment Approaches Online and Over the Phone 

Telephone-based care

This is the oldest approach; it is already being used to provide continuing care for substance abuse. Ongoing care, delivered by phone, is easy to put into practice and doesn’t require any additional costs such as licensing fees or patient training. Telephone-based services have included telephone monitoring, feedback, and counseling. 

A study conducted by J.R. McKay, D.H. Van Horn, D.W. Oslin et al. found that adding telephone continuing care to an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) improved alcohol use outcomes as compared to IOP alone.

Interactive voice recognition (IVR) technology

This is an enhanced version of telephone-based technology. In IVR, an automated telephone system provides patients with different follow-up and feedback questions based on their answers to pre-set questions. In pilot studies, IVR was found to reduce post-outpatient treatment drinking but only for those who had achieved their treatment goals before their discharge.

Web-based telemedicine (Online Rehab)

Web-based services are available to many patients who can access them at any time, at their convenience. There are several web-based apps for SUD assessment. Generally, web-based telemedicine services are useful for reducing alcohol consumption and drug abuse, especially for non-student populations.

Video conferencing

Video conferencing for psychiatry or addiction treatment occurs via sure portals on personal computers or dedicated telemedicine consoles.

Videoconferencing is currently used in addiction treatment for:

  • Video therapy—Patients can interact with therapists from a distant location or their own homes.
  • Recovery supports—A counselor or peer-support specialist interacts with a person in recovery.
  • Specialty services—Patients are put in contact with difficult-to-access medical specialists such as a physician who can prescribe buprenorphine (a drug used in opiate recovery).

Studies of videoconferencing for addiction have found no difference in the results or patient satisfaction whether the care was provided in person or by video.

  • Mobile devices—Smartphones and tablets make substance use treatment and support available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Early analysis of mobile devices in health care shows that the positive effects have been mainly attributed to texting interventions in the mobile device app. Smartphones and tablets have the same services as telephones, web-based services, and videoconferencing services.
  • Virtual worlds and avatars—Companies design virtual surroundings for individual treatment organizations. The virtual world is protected and accessible only by people with an access code and a password. Treatment services in the virtual world include presentations, individual or group counseling, and a live therapist who interacts with the patients through an avatar. The virtual world allows concurrent communication between patients and therapists.

Implementing Telemedicine in Addiction Treatment

In-person interactions between patient and provider are the main way counselors, and therapists have undertaken substance abuse treatment and behavioral therapy. Although face-to-face has proven to be effective, telehealth offers a new outlook in the field of substance abuse treatment.

So, how will healthcare providers apply telehealth to addiction treatment and recovery services?

Use telehealth to complement substance abuse treatment

It’s not a completely new way of practicing and should be used as a complement to established treatment. Once a face-to-face relationship is established with patients, telemedicine can help to maintain the relationship. It is also good for interventional communications as well as progress updates.

Many digital health programs built around addiction treatment have a behavioral health component that can serve as remote therapy for patients and improve the impact of in-office therapy.

Help patients feel in control 

Telemedicine affirms for patients that their health is in their hands. Patients are asked what they feel is effective and what they wish they could change. By talking to patients in their own environments, makes it easier for them to show ambition in their own health decisions and encourages them to reach out to their therapist when needed.

Chart and act on trends 

Patients can update their providers about their condition quickly and easily. When telemedicine is used for regular check-ins, it is easier to get a complete reading of the patient’s daily life and act on problems quickly. There is a better chance of addressing problems before they start.

Understand patient comorbidity 

Treating multiple health issues at one time is a challenge. Many addictions arise as a result of physical and mental health problems such as chronic pain. Telemedicine is an effective tool for chronic care of any type. It serves as a way to maintain the quality of care and stop severe conditions from having a greater impact on patients’ lives.

Combine tracking and action 

Telemedicine can be used to create healthy behavior patterns. By combining tracking and action, continuity of care is strengthened, and patients can see how treatment helps solve problems. Some basic behavior-based apps and programs show patients how to take action in their lifestyle changes. When new, healthy habits are based on communication and connectedness, patients benefit from consistent communication and encouragement.

Online Intensive Outpatient Treatment 

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) has been a way to treat addiction when a longer residential program was neither necessary nor possible. Sometimes it is used as the next step after completing residential treatment. 

IOPs have been found to be a successful part of a continuing care program. They are meant to provide psychological, behavioral, and social support therapies to people while they live at home and carry on with their daily life. This allows patients suffering from drug abuse and other addictions to take part in treatment at the facility in the morning or at the end of the day.

This level of participation at a treatment center is not convenient for some patients due to a long commute from a rural area or time constraints and family obligations. They may simply be looking for a more discreet form of treatment.

Is an Online IOP an Ideal Solution?   

Not everybody has suitable IOP options nearby. Online intensive outpatient programs allow the patients to do the therapy itself at home—no commute required. The therapy is directed at the needs of the individual with fewer group sessions. This affords the counselor and patient to discuss the root causes of the addiction more effectively.

Telemedicine and telehealth apps enable patients to engage in virtual therapy sessions with their therapist or addiction specialist from their own homes. There are apps and wearables that measure medication adherence in medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs.

Patients, as well as therapists, have shown an interest in using telemedicine throughout the duration of their treatment. This is an exceptional opportunity to address the drug abuse crisis in the United States. Diversifying options for treatment of substance use disorders should be strongly considered by treatment centers as a supplemental way to assure patient recovery and welfare.

Addiction and AA Meetings Online

Meetings and counseling sessions for individuals who battle addiction issues are now taking place online. For this reason, these types are needed more than ever, according to addiction specialists, counselors, and people who have substance use issues. 

One participant in AA related that she attended a meeting through the video conferencing platform Zoom that had over 1,000 people in it. In her encounters, she said the virtual meetings are very similar to the in-person ones she’s gone to.

Online meetings have also been essential for members of Narcotics Anonymous. The group now uses platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts to set up large virtual meetings.

The New Wave

Because of the uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is believed in the therapeutic community that more people will come forward seeking mental health services and addiction treatment through telemedicine. According to David Newman, a clinician and program manager at an addiction treatment center, “This is just the beginning of a wave of people asking for help.”

Allow Us to Help You Here at NJRC

If you or someone close to you has a drug or alcohol problem, just ask for help. Contact us today! We have qualified medical professionals and a variety of treatment programs. North Jersey Recovery Center can provide you the care that you want. And it is designed specifically for your needs. 

If you have a lack of family support at home, we will be your family. If you have a severe addiction, we will get you through detox. And after you leave treatment, we have aftercare programs so you will always have support. Let our team assist you today as you begin your journey to recovery. We look forward to working with you as you pursue recovery from addiction.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Laura Riley, MA, LCADC, CCS is an Administrator with North Jersey Recovery Center.