Center for Digital Health

Telehealth for Substance Use Disorders

Telehealth offers an easy alternative to people with substance use disorders seeking treatment, but not without barriers.

telemedicineAs we slowly adjust our personal lifestyles due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, we must also recognize its impact on our healthcare system- namely, the ways in which healthcare providers provide treatment to people virtually. In these dark times of COVID-19, it is especially important now more than ever to emphasize the need for remote healthcare for patients all around the world as they still require treatment for their medical needs. By addressing patients’ needs in a safe way that essentially eliminates their risk for COVID-19 infection, healthcare providers have found a new and effective way to treat patients while addressing traditional barriers to tend to physical and mental health. By studying the internet usage of substance use disorder (SUD) patients, we can better learn how to address these needs. Using tools like Telehealth, a system of electronic healthcare treatment through mobile devices, is a revolutionary yet somewhat controversial way to adjust to the “new normal” of medicine in the time of COVID-19.

So what exactly is telehealth, and how can it help us? Telehealth is a way for people to communicate with their healthcare providers in secure video calls for medical appointments, therapy sessions, and more. This unique form of healthcare actually provides other benefits, like getting rid of the needs for transportation, waiting times, the discomfort of hearing your name get called from the waiting room, and other inconveniences and hassles associated with attending doctor or therapy appointment (Rosenberg, 2020). Even though COVID-19 may have led to some changes in the healthcare policies, insurance companies will treat online care the same as traditional methods. Studies also show that because there are no longer assessments such as drug screening, which may make patients feel untrusted or uneasy, there is higher compliance among the patients for taking their medications. They are also trusted with longer prescriptions so they will not have to refill them as often at the pharmacy (Rosenberg, 2020). In addition to more convenience, using the internet to access healthcare also creates new resources like online communities and support tools to help supplement treatment.

Despite the numerous benefits that come with online healthcare, are also drawbacks. For example, many SUD patients that seek treatment come from low SES backgrounds, meaning that they can have limited access to technology which prevents them from accessing telehealth services. Even if they do have access, they are also susceptible to additional issues, like poor connectivity to the internet and possibly less access to environments that make it easy to facilitate healthcare (Masson et al., 2020). Without technology, the lower SES patients are at a huge disadvantage to finding adequate healthcare during the pandemic. With less access to both in-person and remote healthcare, lower SES people with SUD are actually at higher risk of not being able to access prescriptions to drugs like naloxone, that are designed to help mitigate the symptoms of SUDs (Rosenberg, 2020). Addressing the weaknesses of telehealth will help allow healthcare providers to provide service to as many people in need as they can.

In conclusion, telehealth will be able to bridge the gap between patients and healthcare providers by allowing them to communicate online to address patient needs like symptoms of SUDs. Although some people may not be able to afford technological equipment, smartphones and other similar devices will allow most people in need to access treatment without the inconveniences and stresses associated with travelling to and attending appointments with healthcare providers. By addressing the unique barriers that prevent people from accessing remote healthcare effectively, researchers can help provide more data on how to deliver quality care.


Works Cited

Masson, Carmen L., et al. “Health-Related Internet Use among Opioid Treatment 

Patients.” Addictive Behaviors Reports, Elsevier, 20 Dec. 2018,

Rosenberg, Tina. “Using Telemedicine to Treat Opioid Addiction.” The New York Times

The New York Times, 4 Aug. 2020,