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How Telemedicine Is Changing Alcohol Treatment

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People who are ready to reduce or eliminate their alcohol intake are increasingly turning to telemedicine. But not everyone understands what telemedicine is or how convenient it is to use.

The C Three Foundation has partnered with Ria Health to explain telemedicine, why it is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to see a knowledgeable provider of the Sinclair Method (TSM), and how Ria’s unique spin on TSM through telemedicine is producing so much success in its patients.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the remote delivery of health care services using the internet. Nowadays, it’s most commonly delivered through people’s smartphones. Some people refer to it as “telehealth,” “ehealth,” or “mhealth” (short for “mobile health”).

Telemedicine has a wide range of applications. It can be used for counseling, physical and occupational therapy, chronic disease monitoring and management, consumer and professional education, and more.

How Does Telemedicine Benefit Patients?

Think about your most recent visit to a doctor’s office. The time involved, even for a simple procedure, can be considerable. Between travel, waiting to see the doctor, and the actual diagnosis and treatment, a tiny problem can take hours to address. Sometimes that tiny problem can become a larger issue if it’s left untreated. Telemedicine helps treatment start as soon as possible.

With modern telecommunications, a patient can call a doctor, describe symptoms, and receive diagnosis and a prescription in minutes. Video technology, like Skype or Google Hangouts, enables people to show problems to a doctor—i.e., “to point to where it hurts.”

For decades, one of the issues with traditional addiction treatment is the delay between when a person makes the decision to seek help for their alcohol consumption and when they are able to get an appointment. Telemedicine has opened the door to “help when you are ready” treatment, with many providers offering same day service, including calling medication into a local pharmacy. This rapid service means individuals who want to begin using the Sinclair Method are often able to begin right away.

Telemedicine, Privacy, and Insurance

Treating alcohol problems can be a sensitive matter. Many people prefer to address the issue privately, and for them, telemedicine is a revelation. People with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) sometimes suffer from stigma when they seek treatment. Telemedicine enables the entire process to be done discreetly at home.

For some, another concern is having telemedicine show up on insurance, despite the fact that safeguards are already in place. First, if paying out of pocket, nothing is reported to the insurance company. And second, medical records cannot be shared to their primary care provider without patients’ permission. For Ria Health members, this isn’t as big of an issue, as it accepts most major insurance. C Three Executive Director Jenny Williamson adds, “We encourage people not to go it alone when telemedicine is an option.”

The Future of Telemedicine

At the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Medicine announced earlier this year that they had established the Center for Connected Care, “one of the largest telehealth hubs in the country.” Penn Medicine’s Chief Medical Information Officer, C. William Hanson, III, MD, explains, “Patients today increasingly expect to engage with health care providers with the same clickable convenience as buying holiday gifts online or ordering a ride-sharing service from their phone.” And in an early 2018 article for the University of Arizona’s telemedicine program, Limor Wainstein cites a study by Mordor Intelligence, predicting that “global telemedicine will be worth more than $66 billion by the end of the year 2021.”

As Andy Heikkeli concludes for The Doctor Weighs In, “The benefits are too great, and the public expects it. As with every other field on the planet, technological disruption will leave its mark and rule the day.”

Now Get Treatment Anywhere in the World

Telemedicine overcomes one of the biggest challenges to seeing a TSM professional: geography. When a provider is licensed in a given state, anyone in that state can use their services. And in places like Texas, Florida, and California, which are large enough to prohibit many people from traveling for medical treatment, telemedicine solves the problem by allowing you to have your appointment in the comfort of your own home.

Ria Health uses telemedicine as part of its comprehensive treatment method. Its app works with a wireless breathalyzer to monitor blood alcohol levels and provide medication reminders. Those reminders are often for naltrexone, the medication at the heart of the Sinclair Method. Ria also uses telemedicine to offer support for its members. They can contact a doctor with questions, or a counselor for a pep talk anytime during the day.

On its new website, the C Three Foundation maintains a list of telemedicine providers dedicated to helping those having difficulties with alcohol. And Williamson adds, “If you are anywhere in one of the 38 states (plus Washington, DC, as well as Australia and Canada) where TSM is offered through telemedicine, I strongly urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to work with a medical professional who can guide you through the TSM process.”

 

This article was co-written by Jenny Williamson and Bruce Hodges. Williamson is Executive Director of the C Three Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting individuals struggling with alcohol addiction through education and awareness.

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