The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things about deficiencies in our healthcare delivery system when it comes to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment. During the height of the pandemic, social distancing made it difficult for SUD patients to get counseling or to go to community support groups—many of which were canceled. Although telehealth has helped, video conferencing can make personal engagement and cohesive discussions—especially in group therapy—more challenging. Drug testing and refilling prescriptions also became more difficult, making medication adherence problematic.

Yet the pandemic has also highlighted elements of our healthcare system that work well and that could be better leveraged both during a pandemic and beyond. Digital technology, such as SUD smartphone apps for patients, providers, and families helped has helped mitigate the danger from social isolation, something that can increase the risk of relapse.

One such digital solution is the Connections app from CHESS Health, a leading provider of evidence-based technology for the addiction management life cycle. Connections improves a patient’s socialization, confidence, and motivation to achieve long-term success. The app is part of an integrated care platform with features like sobriety tracking, educational and motivational content, crisis line, and peer engagement. Connections includes an integrated provider platform to help track, engage, support, and analyze their patients’ recovery.

THE CHALLENGES OF TRADITIONAL SUD THERAPY PROGRAMS

Bridget Crumley is a customer service manager at CHESS Health. As a licensed therapist for 15 years, Crumley has worked in many traditional SUD programs. “There are so many roadblocks in traditional SUD therapies,” Crumley said. “Without digital technologies, patient engagement is sporadic and extremely difficult.” In some of those programs all communications, including prevention plans, had to be relayed via paper. The only other resource was through VHS videos. “Managing a SUD program in this way, without personal and continuous engagement, just isn’t effective in most cases.”

THE BENEFITS OF DIGITAL SOLUTION

When Crumley learned about the unique approach CHESS Health was taking, she decided to join the company. “I’ve been with the company for two years now and I love it,” she said. “And so do our patients.” Crumley explained that patients love interacting with others who share their experience. “Patients see the CHESS Connections app as a safe place where they can have real conversations, discovery more about themselves, and work on things like anger, communication, and social skills.” Crumley also point out the benefit to families, often ignored in traditional therapy programs. “Families struggle as well and need the same type of support as the patient, but they often don’t know where to start or how to get involved.” With Connections, families have access 24/7 to the resources and support they need to help themselves and to develop support skills to help their loved one.

BEST PRACTICES FOR IMPLEMENTING A SUD TECHNOLOGY SOLUTION

Since coming to CHESS Health, Crumley has been involved in numerous implementations of the company’s digital solution. Following are several best practices she suggests agencies and providers look for when choosing a digital SUD solution.

Quick implementation. Make sure the company is focused on getting your information quickly into the platform so you have time to get comfortable using the solution early in the process.

Adapts to your workflows. Out-of-the-box solutions are designed around the product, not the provider and patient. Be sure the solution you choose is customizable to your unique workflows. This is essential for driving utilization and ROI.

Focus on your greatest needs. Not all providers have the same needs and the solution you choose should be flexible enough to focus on your most urgent needs first.

Customized, ongoing training. Implementing and learning a new technology can be intimidating and overwhelming. Make sure the company you choose doesn’t just hand you training materials and walk away. Your staff needs time and ongoing training to fully understand and leverage the solution for the best possible outcomes. Patients need to trust that their providers fully embrace and know how to use the solution before they will accept and use it themselves.

Strong onboarding process. Driving patient engagement depends a great deal on how successful they are onboarded. Look for a solution provider who is willing to co-manage this process if needed. They should be able to facilitate patient engagement, discussion groups, goal planning, etc., in the first few days after implementation. This ensures a smooth transition and improves patient acceptance.

Platform integration. Handing a patient a smartphone with a few communications capabilities isn’t enough. Look for a solution that integrates into a complete SUD platform that covers the entire SUD management life cycle, from intervention to therapy to recovery.

A BETTER APPROACH

SUD patients have suffered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and many are likely to experience ongoing difficulties even as the pandemic slows. Now is the time to implement a unified digital SUD solution that increases engagement between patients and their providers, peers, and families. Crumley says, “A solution like Connections app from CHESS Health can help providers build a more therapeutic relationship with their patients, which is so important with COVID.”

CHESS Health has received recognition from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), the Journal of Substance Abuse, and the Surgeon General. CHESS Health offers clinically validated results published in publications like JAMA Psychiatry and the journal of Dual Diagnosis.

  • 31% fewer patients relapsed
  • 50% reduction in severity of relapse
  • 71% reduction in re-hospitalizations