sessions find new success being online
EVERETT — Every weekday morning, the camera goes live, and Geoff Godfrey is ready to greet a crowd of people. The viewers are at various places on the path to exiting opioid addiction.
It’s a video visit through Facebook called “Recovery Gone Viral.”
The core audience is people in programs run by the medical group Ideal Option. Godfrey is one of its addiction professionals.
By all accounts, going online is working far beyond what the team dreamed. It’s made isolating at home feel less lonely.
Because the group is giving each other virtual hugs and moral support, Godfrey said he thinks the pact-like effort of the audience is making bonds stronger among people in recovery. He said the agency has been able to keep more clients on track versus before COVID-19 restrictions altered society.
By being online, Godfrey said the video chats have drawn in people who want help but aren’t part of Ideal Option’s programs.
“I think this has eradicated barriers for some people” by logging in versus visiting a clinic, he said. Opioid withdrawal is one of the biggest challenges anyone in recovery faces.
People are “finding new ways to support each other” with cheerleading and giving validation during the meetings, Godfrey said. The live chats have people telling others to not give up.
The agency offered telemedicine before the pandemic, but how much it’s succeeded today has pleasantly surprised the agency, which has its nearest office in Everett.
“I can’t tell you how many doors it’s opened for us,” said Bryce Kelly, Ideal Options’ vice president for operations, who spent years building the company by opening new clinics.
He called it a paradigm shift, and said it could be permanent.
Telemedicine has let the agency “really stretch out into the corners of the state” where it doesn’t have a clinic, Kelly said.
He said the agency has also been enrolling patients who came after their recovery paths were interrupted by COVID-19 because the clinic they were working with didn’t have telemedicine set up or because the clinic pulled back on opioid recovery programs to respond more intensely on coronavirus-specific medical needs.
One constant with drug abuse recovery is that people need to bring in urine tests to the clinic. These are used to check if patients have relapsed to adjust the recovery program.
Prescriptions for the opioid substitute drugs patients use — Ideal Option prescribes suboxone and vivitrol — can be sent electronically to a pharmacy for drive-through pickup. The agency can arrange to have a pharmacy deliver the medicine to people who have self-isolated or face new difficulties in getting to the pharmacy in rural areas because of lessened bus or ride-hail services (the deliveries are available only if insurance will cover it, Kelly noted.)
Early on, people watching the videos had some tension under the new coronavirus restrictions, but the clinicians are detecting triggers and at-home stressors to work with patients, Godfrey said. Going online has flipped the script.
“It’s forcing us to listen to the other person on the screen,” and to be a more attuned coach, Godfrey said.
He hopes being viral and accessible will grow one of other goals: to eliminate the stigma on people recovering from opioid abuse.
Other agencies aren’t in the dark.
For example, Compass Health, a nonprofit behavioral health agency headquartered in Everett, is beginning to widely deploy its existing mobile telehealth system to make virtual visits.
Its spectrum of care includes opioid use clients.Compass Health’s experience saw overall client participation in services was declining 20 percent every week with stay-at-home orders in place.
It accelerated telemedicine to reverse the trend. Compass Health has developed what it calls its “Bridge” telehealth machine that gives a doctor a 360 view of the patient’s environment to conduct a virtual appointment using the device or the client’s cell phone, laptop or tablet.
It can be brought to the patient’s home.
“This helps community members connect with psychiatrists and other providers who might be located miles away,” said Compass Health’s chief medical officer Dr. Camis Milam in an email. “Spurred by COVID-19 social-distancing, Compass Health expanded deployment of the system, enabling many clients to communicate via their own devices.”
Calling it a bridge might be particularly acute: A representative for the medical group said that “the adult population Compass Health serves is especially vulnerable to COVID-19; a 50-year-old with co-occurring mental and physical disorders is medically closer to someone aged 70+ – and often, these individuals view their Compass Health provider as their primary healthcare resource.”
The machine complies with health privacy rules, Compass Health emphasized, and can be used to decide on prescriptions.
“Following the appointment, prescribers may communicate with a client’s local pharmacy to enter a prescription order,” Milam said. “They can also use the Bridge system to communicate about new medications or changes in treatment with the rest of the client’s care team.”
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