As Americans get older and our addiction crises worsen, the need for doctors—and especially addiction specialists—will only increase. In this post, we discuss how telemedicine can help with the U.S.’s impending doctor shortage.
What Is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine has the capacity to revolutionize the healthcare industry. But many people don’t know what it is or how it can help. Part of this is due to terminology. In a recent post, we explained how telemedicine can go by many names, including telehealth, e-health, or mobile health. They all essentially refer to the same thing: healthcare services remotely delivered via the web. Telemedicine makes it so patients don’t have to be physically present at healthcare facilities. Through smartphone apps, Skype video calls, image sharing, and other digital means of communicating medical data, patients can have instant access to chronic disease management, physical therapy, counseling, and long-term addiction treatment without having to leave their homes.
How Can Telemedicine Help Address the Doctor Shortage?
In addition to helping patients access care more easily, telemedicine can also assist with an increasing demand for nurses and doctors. Remote healthcare allows medical professionals to cater to more patients than normally possible with face-to-face healthcare services. This could be especially crucial, considering impending shortages in American healthcare.
With an expanding population of adults over 65, and a worsening opioid crisis in many parts of the country, there’s a greater need for easier access to medical and addiction treatment. The most recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of up to 121,000 physicians by 2030, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects 200,000 new openings for nursing jobs every year until 2026. And some states are taking action: In Indiana, for instance, which has one of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the country, a coalition of universities and health organizations recently launched a program to train dozens of new addiction specialists annually.
That program, however, will hardly make a dent in the Indiana’s expected shortage of 7,000 behavioral health specialists. We certainly need more doctors with expertise in treating addiction. Telemedicine, however, has the unique ability to expand the reach of the doctors we already have.
New Solutions on the Horizon
Pending federal legislation could go a long way toward solving the coming doctor shortage. The Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act (HR 1301), which was reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February, would have Medicare cover home-based mental health telemedicine.
“More than 3.6 million people each year miss or delay care due to lack of transportation to their physician,” says Rep. Suzan DelBene in a press release. “Telemedicine allows those patients to take off less time from work and spend less time sitting in traffic.” Should HR 1301 prevail, government-subsidized telemedicine could do a lot to meet increasing demand.
As parts of Congress push for wider access to telemedicine, a new wave of startups has emerged to provide infrastructure and advocacy for this new branch of the healthcare industry, attracting new users and venture capital. These companies are opening up access on a number of fronts. There are apps for women’s health, psychiatric care, and even 24/7 access to general practitioners. State-by-state, insurance coverage and regulatory support for telemedicine is building, and millions of Americans are gaining access to new healthcare solutions.
Telemedicine and Addiction Treatment
The ball seems to be rolling. Soon, remote and web-based healthcare could be the norm—including for addiction treatment. Ria Health aims to be a leader in providing that treatment through modern technology. With an innovative new smartphone app, members of Ria’s program have access to counseling and prescription medications shown to reduce alcohol cravings. A 24/7 support system and digital progress-tracking tools make it possible for members to reduce or eliminate their drinking without ever setting foot in a doctor’s office. By reducing stigma, and avoiding the disruption and expense of traditional rehab programs, new telemedicine companies like Ria are helping to bridge the gaps in addiction care.