So many things that we used to do only in-person, we now do online. From something as basic as sending a letter (now email) to things as complicated as buying a car, getting a bank loan, or going to school, we do more and more using our computers. And “our computers” are now often our phones.
The acceptance of “telemedicine” or “telehealth” – the use of computers and video to provide health care – has been a long time coming. U.S. armed forces have used videoconferencing and data sharing to provide specialty medical care to Americans in service for well over a decade.
With an enormous workforce, scattered around the globe, delivering care “online” is the only practical way to get medical specialists everywhere they need to be. See the link to the study below on how they’re using telemedicine for mental health care too.
Hospitals across the U.S. are now adopting similar practices. In fact, Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement for telehealth services is now mandated by law in 23 U.S. states, and 15 more have pending legislation. It won’t be long until “telemedicine” is commonplace.
But, you may have questions about getting help for addiction online. Here are some answers:
What Exactly is Online Addiction Treatment?
In short, “online addiction treatment” is getting any sort of therapy for addiction using an Internet-connected device. The level and type of care provided (whether video, audio or text, or some combination), and whether the treatment involves live contact with counselors, can all vary depending on what type of care you choose and who your online addiction treatment provider is.
In its most advanced form, online addiction treatment provides care across different communications types, choosing what works best for the delivery of specific types of care. For example, group therapy is an important component of “best practices” addiction treatment in any setting, and it works best using live video conferencing that can support multiple users with high definition video and audio.
For writing assignments, text-based communications, like email and messaging make sense, as long as they are secure. For structure and accountability, a smartphone app can be the right tool for the job.
Online addiction treatment can involve many different approaches to treatment, some more rigorous than others. Certain addiction treatment centers provide care according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) protocols for addiction treatment that are used by leading treatment centers nationally.
At the other end of the spectrum, some programs provide only pre-recorded study materials and a self-paced program. Depending on your specific needs, one type of program may make more sense for you than the others.
Why Would I Choose Online Treatment Instead of a Traditional “On-Site” Setting?
Online addiction treatment offers some benefits that are hard or impossible to find in an on-site setting. Privacy, schedule flexibility and access are probably the three biggest advantages.
- Privacy can be greatly enhanced by getting help with addiction online. Clients accessing care from home or other place connected to the Internet can more effectively control who knows about their treatment. Residential treatment requires clients to leave work and home for an extended period of time, while local outpatient care exposes clients to questions from people they encounter when arriving or leaving an outpatient care facility.
- Schedule flexibility is another advantage, depending on the treatment program you choose. Fitting treatment into a schedule of work and family commitments can be difficult, both in terms of time of day, as well as travel time. The two advantages come together when time of day and the need for childcare are concerns. Travel time can easily add an hour to the commitment, and accessing treatment from home, during the right schedule for work and family commitments can save time and money.
- Access to treatment can be a challenge in some areas of the world. Driving hours to find care, if it’s even within driving distance, can make committing to the process difficult. Online treatment is available wherever there’s a broadband Internet connection.
Is online treatment safe?
Confidentiality and data security must be the number one priority of every online treatment provider. Here are some things to know:
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) provides a set of regulations and guidelines for protecting Protected Health Information (PHI). In sum, PHI refers to your health care records. The regulations – which apply in the offline world as much as online – range from who may see your PHI, to how it is stored, and what processes are used by the people who store it. Online treatment providers must comply with HIPAA.
- HIPAA refers specifically to PHI, your health history, but it does not apply directly to treatment itself. When providing care in-person, there are walls and doors that protect a patient’s privacy, or at least a curtain around the examination area. Whatever the amount of privacy, it’s visible to the naked eye. How does this translate online?
All of your interactions with healthcare providers online should be encrypted – scrambled into something unreadable – to protect your privacy. The way your data – video, voice, or text/email communications – are handled also must ensure privacy to the greatest possible extent.
Many basic Internet communications technologies (email and text messaging, for example) are not encrypted, and so can easily be read by people with access to the many different places these communications touch as they travel across the Internet. But don’t despair, secure versions of these technologies do exist. It’s important to know how the online treatment company you choose protects your privacy both during treatment and when information about you is gathered and stored.
You may wonder how you can be expected to know all about this, and luckily, there is a simple answer:
Look for treatment providers who are licensed by their state, and who are accredited by either the Joint Commission, which accredits over 20,000 U.S. healthcare providers, or Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), which accredits over 6,700 service providers.
The accreditation and licensure processes are rigorous, and adherence to privacy and confidentiality standards is an important requirement in achieving the quality standard that accreditation and licensure represent.
When proper precautions and procedures are in place, yes, online treatment is safe.
Does online treatment work?
Yes, it does. Several significant studies have shown that “telemental health” is at least as effective as in-person mental health care. Here are some resources to study:
– U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
“The rapidly growing telemental health program of the U.S. Veterans Affairs health care system delivered more effective mental health services to nearly 100,000 patients than standard, face-to-face encounters during 2007-2010”
– University of Zurich, Switzerland
“Online psychotherapy is just as efficient as conventional therapy. Three months after the end of the therapy, patients given online treatment even displayed fewer symptoms. For the first time, clinical researchers from the University of Zurich provide scientific evidence of the equal value of internet-based psychotherapy.
– Gainesville Sun
The Therapy Assisted Online (TAO) program, started in the fall, has had staggering results, showing that it is, so far, more successful than individual or group therapy sessions offered face to face. Sherry Benton, director of the UF Counseling & Wellness Center, said that when she computed the results, she was so shocked she had to take a walk.
“I think my counseling staff are still in shock,” she said.