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Telehealth Takes the Lead in Addiction Treatment

Anticipating that payers will soon embrace value-based addiction treatment programs, a national network of health providers is doubling down on mHealth.

By Eric Wicklund

- With payers looking for new ways to prove the value of addiction treatment, a national network behavioral healthcare providers is ramping up its telehealth efforts.

Austin. Texas-based MAP Health Management is adding 1,200 counselors to its national MAP Recovery Network, with the goal of creating programs that connect providers with the estimated 22 million Americans with addiction problems on a continual basis, rather than once every week or two.

"Extending the continuum of recovery support that begins when someone enters recovery to several months post-treatment is so important to those who suffer from addiction, those who love them, and for all of our communities.,” Tom Kimball, MD, MAP’s clinical director, said in a press release. “Trained counselors providing recovery advocacy, guidance, and care to persons in recovery over the long-term is a game changer for our field.”

The announcement addresses what MAP officials see as an expected change in priorities in the payer market. Payers are moving toward requiring value-driven performance, and providers are adopting platforms that demonstrate care management – and that have data to back it up.

“This amalgamation of extended recovery support with predictive technology will provide the means to assess risk in patients, reduce healthcare expense and improve the quality of care,” officials said.

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Officials say “several major health insurance companies” will launch new efforts this year to bolster recovery support after someone leaves in in-patient or IOP program. With that in mind, MAP’s network will focus on mHealth and telehealth platforms that provide continued “touches” between the patient and the provider, as well as data-collection methods that enable providers to chart a patient’s health issues and intervene at necessary moments.

This puts addiction recovery providers on the path of a value-driven healthcare approach that’s been the goal of the nation’s health systems for some time now. The key, MAP officials said, is a payer market that understands and reimburses for this model of care.

"As the behavioral healthcare reimbursement model continues to evolve, we will see addiction treatment providers take innovative strides to better serve their client base and improve their treatment outcomes,” Jacob Levenson, MAP’s CEO, said in the press release. “This heightened demand for accountability from payers will completely change the way in which addiction treatment is delivered and the result will be increased numbers of individuals who achieve long-term recovery from addiction."

The industry got a huge boost roughly two years ago when the Affordable Care Act reclassified substance abuse as a chronic condition, compelling providers and payers to treat them with clinical platforms – and putting the emphasis on chronic care management. Treatment programs that were directed by law enforcement, church groups and social programs were integrating with health systems and behavioral health providers.

Prior to the ACA designation, California’s addiction treatment methods were “this weird mix of self-help, criminal justice, social work and a non-profit peer mentor collection of activities, none of which had anything to do with health care,” Richard Rawson, a UCLA professor of psychiatry, told in 2013. “The system has not been able to decide if they are sick people or bad people.”

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Within two years, though, UCLA’s researchers were conducting the first-ever behavioral health clinical trial that used mHealth apps to connect people with smoking, alcohol and gambling addictions with sponsors and treatments, while also enabling healthcare providers to collect real-time data on user habits.

"We're approaching this from the provider's point of view, (looking at) how a data-driven approach can help them understand" behavioral health issues, Adeshi Rahman, a co-investigator in UCLA’s Behavioral Technologies Lab, told mHealth News. "On the therapeutic side, you need to think about the patient and the provider at the same time."

mHealth companies focusing on wearables are also eyeing the space. Last March, Chrono Therapeutics received an investment from Rock Health to develop a "programmable transdermal drug delivery system and real-time behavioral support program for smoking cessation" – basically, a sensor-embedded smartpatch that can capture a user’s physiological data and deliver controlled doses of a drug (in this case, nicotine for smokers) when needed.

Behavioral health experts say the keep to addiction treatment lies on providing the patient with a real-time support network. While that might include wearables or apps, it should start with a telehealth platform that enables communication between the user and a provider whenever and wherever it’s needed.


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