Is Telemedicine the Solution for Addiction in Rural America?

With limited addiction specialists in rural America, is telemedicine the next best thing?

The closest addiction specialist is three hours away. You don’t have a reliable vehicle. If you arrange for a ride or take public transportation, everyone in town will know where you went and why. If this were your situation, how likely would you be to get help?

Now, let’s add a new variable…

That specialist is still three hours away. You still don’t have a ride, and the stigma in town is still there. But, now you can sit down in front of your computer at home and meet with the doctor.

What do you think? Did your odds of getting treatment just go up?

Telemedicine: Revolutionizing Treatment

This potential game-changer is called telemedicine. It is “the practice of treating patients remotely through telecommunication and information technology.”

Instead of traveling hours to visit your doctor, you could schedule an online appointment. You can use Skype or another web-based platform to connect with your healthcare provider.

During this appointment, you can discuss concerns, ask questions, and receive recommendations for treatment – just like you would in person.

This innovative method could be used for psychological services, specialist consults or addiction treatment.

Jamey Lister, assistant professor at Wayne State University, claims, “There really isn’t any condition that you couldn’t potentially apply it to.”

The Cure for Rural America?

Across the country rural areas have been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. These remote locations suffer from a perfect storm of variables that not only increase the risk of substance abuse but hinder access to treatment. These risk factors include:

  • Poor economic conditions
  • Jobs with a high risk for injury
  • Few treatment options

By solving two problems, telemedicine might be the much needed solution for rural Americans struggling with chemical dependency. Let’s take a look at both of those solutions:

  • First, doctors – particularly addiction specialists – aren’t likely to set up practice in small, rural towns. It’s not feasible, unfortunately.
  • Second, Patients who need treatment from these specialists are often far from the metropolis where the doctor practices, making it impossible for them to receive care. Telemedicine brings these two parties together – parties who may otherwise never meet.

Local Solutions to a Nationwide Epidemic

What about those who don’t have internet access at home? In many remote areas, this is still a problem. However, local hospitals and clinics can set up internet connections to distant locations. So, the patients only need to get to their nearby facility. Using telemedicine, they can receive treatment locally that’s normally unavailable at that site.

Dr. Jed Magen, osteopathic psychiatrist at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, admits, “It’s really probably one of the few ways we can increase access.”

And he’s probably right. The alternative is to expect patients to drive several hours for what could be a 15-minute visit. That’s simply not realistic.

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