A new wave of 'telemedicine' could include remote addiction treatment.

Telemedicine has grown rapidly in recent years, and now a bill could ensure health care providers the ability to provide 'tele' counseling for substance abuse disorders. To be more specific, the practice of 'telemedicine' is the use of virtual tools, such as video chatting to connect patients with various health professionals, and according to the American Telemedicine Association the practice is growing in popularity. From 2013 to 2015 the practice has seen a 50 percent increase and about 15 million Americans have used telemedicine to connect with their health care providers. In fact, some health insurance providers already offer telemedicine services for the treatment of substance abuse. Yet the bill purposed by Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, and D-Anne Arundel would ensure that health insurance companies could provide services via electronic communication. telemedicine “This is something that there is a significant amount of interest in because of the lack of behavioral health counseling and other behavioral health services in many areas of the state,” said Yngvild Olsen, the director of a Baltimore outpatient substance use disorder treatment program. However, when it comes those who rely on Medicaid, regulations have stymied reimbursement of telemedicine services. More clearly defined regulation could help improve the reach of the method.
According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, opioid related deaths have doubled in the state of Maryland – rising from 529 in 2011 to a staggering 1,089 in 2015. As mentioned previously, the technology is expanding and recent studies are showing promise. Physicians at West Virginia University remotely met with 46 patients, performing 30 minute group sessions to prescribe certain medications including buprenorphine. The sessions were then followed up with an hour long in-person therapy sessions. Of the telemedicine group, 49 percent achieved a 90 day sobriety streak where as the in-person group only had 37 percent. The ability to reach those who would otherwise need to make a few hour drive coupled with the ability to prescribe buprenorphine more efficiently, the technology could finally curb the rise of opioid abuse in a state that desperately needs it.

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