With lockdowns and restrictions now a semi-regular occurrence, many services have made a rapid shift to offer treatment by telehealth.
On the upside, it opens up another access point for service users to get help. But it can also be a challenge for service users and practitioners alike.
Recent research has found that telehealth can be just as effective as in-person alcohol and other drug treatment if a few key principles are followed. Telehealth is not new for many other health sectors and we know a fair bit from the extensive literature on telehealth for mental health treatment.
Ingredients of effective telehealth
The first one is simple. Make sure service users know that telehealth is an option and how they can access it. So that means a marketing plan is needed, including letting current service users know.
For service users to be able to access telehealth effectively, check they:
- have access suitable technology – check both client and provider visual and audio is set up, including camera set up, sound quality, lighting
- are not likely to have issues that require a crisis or physical response
- have social supports
- do not have language, physical or other barriers
Confidentiality and privacy need some extra thought, so before you start, make sure service users understand the risks of privacy and confidentiality in a telehealth environment. Check they are in a space where other people can’t overhear – we’ve had people do sessions from their car! And try to make the service provider space as much like a therapeutic setting as possible.
This may require some additional flexibility from practitioners, including speaking more clearly than usual, emphasising verbal and non-verbal gestures or varying the length and frequency of sessions to ensure clients stay engaged.
As with all treatment, evaluating the effectiveness of telehealth can help guide adjustments and improvements along the way. New metrics that are easy to implement might need to be considered for attendance or retention, treatment outcomes and client satisfaction.
Last but not least, it’s also important for practitioners to look after themselves in this new telehealth environment, including seeking supervision for the adapted environment and being mindful of occupational stressors such as screen fatigue.
If you need assistance to effectively adapt the delivery of alcohol and other drug treatment by telehealth, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1300 988 184.
Dr Richard Cash
Head of Service Development