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Using mHealth to Create A ‘Panoramic View’ of Substance Abuse

Healthcare providers are using digital health tools to take addiction treatment out of the clinic and into the patient's daily life.

By Eric Wicklund

- Healthcare providers often look at connected health technology as the key to enforcing behavior change, if they could just figure out how to use it. Nowhere is that more important than in addiction recovery, where behaviors can be life-threatening.

While many health providers look at mHealth as a means of connecting the patient to the provider, behavioral health and substance abuse treatment counselors want to use the technology to bring the therapy to the patient. Apps, messaging platforms and other online tools are designed to help those fighting addictions to access care and support when they need it, and to give healthcare providers a window to each patient’s daily struggles and stress points.

“We’re building a panoramic view of your life,” says Jacob Levenson.

And that view may save lives as well.

Levenson is the CEO of MAP Health Management, a nationwide network of more than 70 addiction treatment providers. In January, the Austin, Texas-based organization announced plans to add 1,200 licensed professional counselors to its network, taking aim at a growing crisis that ruins lives and families and adds considerably to the nation’s healthcare bill.

In recent months, MAP Health Management has also been building out its provider network, partnering with treatment centers to enable patients to continue their treatment arc upon discharge from an in-patient program. Programs like the Green Mountain Treatment Center in Effingham, N.H., Addison House in Boynton Beach, Fla.; Grace’s Way Recovery in Palm Beach, Fla.; Cirque Lodge in Sundance, Utah; Mending Fences in Morriston, Fla.; and Cumberland Heights in Nashville now include telehealth in their “comprehensive aftercare” programs.

Some 22.5 million Americans are struggling with addiction, says Levenson, yet only about 5.5 million of them are seeking treatment. That’s because addiction counselors are hard to find and too expensive for many people. Many don’t have an electronic medical record platform, relying primarily on face-to-face counseling and written notes.

“There’s a whole ‘access-to-healthcare’ issue here,” Levenson says. And it’s exacerbated by insurers and health plans who are reluctant to support treatment.

Substance abuse counselors and networks like MAP are bringing mHealth into the equation partly at the bequest of payers. Levenson says insurers “are weary of paying for addiction treatment that doesn’t produce results,” and are looking for programs that offer more value. That puts the spotlight on treatment plans that focus on patient engagement, recovery support - especially after patients are discharged from hospitals or inpatient programs – and data collection.

“It’s a reporting environment, a data environment,” says Levenson. Payers are looking for programs that can chart interactions between the patient and provider, medication adherence, even the patient’s daily exercise, sleep and diet patterns and moods. From that panoramic view, a provider could then identify trends that might lead to relapses or habits that lead to positive outcomes.

The concept of “touches” in addiction treatment, or moments throughout the day when a patient can contact a provider or a provider can reach out to a patient with a message, is appealing. But Levenson cautions that technology can be over-used as well.

“There’s a lot of risk if you’re wrong,” he points out. A counselor runs the risk of putting a patient in an isolated environment, always accessible by remote devices yet lacking face-to-face contact.

“Sometimes that person needs to be seen in person by a counselor,” he says. “That’s why you need to understand what patient is suitable for what kind of treatment modality.”

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