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Telemedicine and addiction treatment outcomes
SUDBURY – Opioid addiction related deaths are rising but a new study b a professor from the Northern Ontario School of Medicine is providing new hope.
Using video-conferencing systems when it comes to treating patients isn't new in the medical field.
Dr. David Marsh, leading addictions specialist, says he was surprised though by the results of a recent study he completed on the effectiveness of treating opioid dependency via telemedicine therapy.
"What we actually found was the patients who saw their doctor by telemedicine did as well or better than the patients who were seeing their doctor in person when we looked at treatment outcomes like retention in treatment and reduction in urines positive for opioids," he explained.
Marsh says the distance between the patient and the doctor may be part of the explanation as to why they are seeing better outcomes.
"For example, if they have some mental health problems that make in-person encounters uncomfortable, then it might be more comfortable when the physician encounter has that boundary around it," says Dr. Marsh.
Dr. Tara Leary uses this technology every day to connect with patients across the north from her office in Sudbury.
She says she has seen a real increase in the use of telemedicine, especially for addictions and mental health care.
"A lot of addictions care is that patient narrative, it is that connection and that's easily gained virtually as opposed to a specialty that would require more hands on physical examination… and there are certainly technologies to address those needs as well but in the professions where it really is about that patient connection and thing are amenable to being seen on television, were seeing a real explosion of virtual care," says Dr. Leary.
Dr. Marsh says there are other topics that his research data has not yet been able to capture, for instance, the need to learn more about the rates of unstable housing, homelessness, interactions with the criminal system, and the social context.
He says he is hopeful that more tools become available with ongoing research.