Inpatient/Outpatient Rehab vs. Online Telehealth

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If you feel that your drinking is negatively impacting your life and you’re ready to make a change, you may be asking yourself, “is rehab for me?”

A structured program can go a long way towards helping you change your drinking habits. But which approach is the best fit? Should you enroll at a residential rehab center, make daily visits to an outpatient clinic, or access the help you need remotely, through your smartphone? Does online rehab really work?

The answer, in many cases, is yes, it does. Below, we’ll discuss four main differences between traditional and online rehab: treatment philosophy, effectiveness, convenience, and pricing. Oftentimes, telehealth can offer the same, or better quality of care, with less disruption to a person’s life.

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Traditional Rehab vs. Online Telehealth: What Are The Differences?

Traditional Rehab Online Telehealth
In-person care at dedicated facility Meet with doctors and coaches over video chat
Not always based in scientific research Greater emphasis on evidence-based treatment
Often requires abstinence Often offers moderation as an option
Follows a set schedule Flexible scheduling
Generally costs thousands to tens of thousands of dollars per month Often costs hundreds of dollars per month

1. Treatment Philosophy

To begin with, mainstream rehab and telehealth often take a different approach to treatment.

Mainstream rehab comes in two main forms: Inpatient and outpatient. Inpatient treatment generally involves checking into a residential facility for 30-90 days, and following a highly structured daily schedule. Outpatient programs allow people to stay in their homes and attend a facility during the day. Hours of treatment per week vary, but many people can still maintain some of their normal routines.

Although there are some changes in the industry, many inpatient and outpatient treatment programs still follow the 12-step program created by Alcoholics Anonymous over 80 years ago. This approach is abstinence-based, and emphasizes belief in a higher power.

While the 12 steps work for some people, for others this approach makes addiction feel like a moral failing, which can feed a cycle of shame and relapse. Many facilities also still use shame-based confrontational counseling strategies, which research shows are ineffective and sometimes damaging.

Online rehab programs do not require any in-person treatment, and allow for a flexible schedule. Many of them are based in more contemporary research, and offer moderation as an option. Telehealth programs are moving away from a “one size fits all” treatment philosophy, accommodating the needs and preferences of individuals.

While online rehab includes medical counseling and support groups, it also tends to embrace other evidence-based methods, including medication-assisted treatment. Programs often offer access to medication for alcohol cravings, as well as licensed recovery coaches. Weekly coaching meetings can help people change difficult behaviors, and learn new coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness.

In other words, while they don’t involve in-person treatment, many online rehab programs take a more holistic, open-ended approach to recovery.

2. Long-Term Effectiveness

b&w person on computer, rehab vs. online telehealth
Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

The long-term effectiveness of treatment depends on a wide variety of factors. But a strong support system, effective coping strategies, and good mental and physical self-care go a long way. One measure of a good treatment plan is how well it sets people up with the skills and support they need to stick with recovery.

While some traditional rehab programs offer long-term support and skill-building, there are many that don’t offer much transitional care. There is also often an evidence gap: because the treatment industry is under-regulated, there are actually many residential programs that offer care with little basis in scientific research.

This means that, despite their professional appearance, traditional rehab programs aren’t always offering effective care. In fact, success rates for inpatient and outpatient treatment programs remain inconsistent and surprisingly low.

In contrast, many online programs make use of the latest scientific evidence, and offer treatment methods backed by real data. And since telehealth operates from your phone, it’s easier for programs to offer long-term support as you continue your daily life.

Ria Health is one program that offers coaching and medical support for a full year. As members establish a different relationship with alcohol, they get continuous check-ins and helpful digital tools. As a result, Ria’s members reduce their drinking by an average 75 percent in the first 12 months.

Other non-traditional, medication-based approaches also show strong effectiveness. The Sinclair Method, which uses targeted doses of naltrexone to retrain the brain’s reward response to alcohol, has a 78 percent long-term success rate.

3. Convenience

A stay in inpatient rehab typically lasts 30 to 90 days. During this time, people receiving treatment have little contact with loved ones and rarely leave the treatment facility. Inpatient rehab puts day-to-day responsibilities like working and caring for children on pause.

Although less disruptive than full-time rehab, outpatient treatment still requires a challenging time commitment for busy individuals—especially those with children. Outpatient treatment often involves multiple sessions per week, including group therapy, individual counseling, skill development, and self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. While these can be useful, they are on a set schedule, and often eat up a big chunk of the day.

If you opt for online treatment, you have more flexibility to fit treatment to your existing schedule. You can engage in counseling sessions and access all necessary tools and support from the comfort of your own home, without commuting. Time off work, alternate childcare arrangements, and even reliable transportation are not needed. This can make it easier to stick with a program for long enough to establish change.

4. Pricing

plant in money jar, rehab vs. online telehealth
Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

The cost of treatment can vary, but among the existing options inpatient rehab is by far the most expensive. A one month stay can cost tens of thousands of dollars, with some luxury facilities charging as much as $80,000. Then, there’s the impact of any lost wages from time away from work.

Insurance can sometimes offset the cost of rehab, but some people don’t have insurance. Additionally, many insurance providers do not cover the full cost of inpatient rehab. For many, the resulting copayments or out-of-pocket expenses make it impossible to afford inpatient treatment. In fact, this is a leading reason why many people who need treatment don’t receive it.

While outpatient treatment can be cheaper, when it comes to outpatient rehab vs. telehealth, telehealth is the more affordable of the two. Outpatient rehab can still cost several thousand dollars per month, while there are many online programs that cost only hundreds of dollars. While this is still a significant investment, it pales in comparison to traditional rehab. And with more and more insurance companies covering telehealth, it can be even cheaper for some people.

Traditional Rehab vs. Ria Health

In summary, many traditional rehab programs use outdated approaches to treatment which are not always effective. Both inpatient and outpatient rehab can significantly disrupt your daily life, and also place a significant strain on your wallet. Finally, many mainstream programs follow a “one size fits all” philosophy that is not flexible enough to the individual’s needs.

In contrast, Ria Health’s online program offers a convenient, affordable, evidence-based approach with strong success rates. We don’t require you to put your life on hold, subscribe to any particular philosophy, or even stop drinking completely if you don’t want to. Best of all, we are in-network with many major insurance plans.

If you’re looking for a contemporary, convenient alternative to mainstream rehab, get in touch with a member of our team today, or read more about how it works.

Written By:
Ashley Cullins
Freelance writer with contributions to numerous addiction blogs and a passion for relatable content.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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