The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic recently passed its one-year mile mark without a clear finish line in sight. Frontline workers, especially those working in healthcare, have endured significant levels of trauma, stress, and exhaustion while providing patients with lifesaving care. It’s undeniable that these workers are in urgent need of our support, and the expansion of telemedicine is enabling more remote options for care while also easing administrative burdens.
Supporting Frontline Workers with Addiction Care Needs
My cofounder Robin McIntosh and I envisioned a simpler system of addiction recovery after we both experienced the limits of traditional options firsthand. Workit Health (Workit) is a care program provided through telemedicine that brings evidence-based support, including medication and online therapy, to people struggling with addiction. Our program allows patients to work toward recovery goals virtually, which may include meeting with clinicians and counselors, participating in recovery groups, and receiving prescriptions for medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, overdoses in the United States were decreasing. Unintended consequences of the pandemic, such as higher stress and isolation for people facing addiction, have likely contributed to the increase in that number in 2020. We are now in a twin pandemic of epic proportions.
At Workit Health, we’ve experienced an increase in new patients this past year, in part because telemedicine is the only option people are comfortable with, and in part because people are stuck at home and using or drinking more than they previously were. Many states have eliminated restrictions on telemedicine to better comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19, making it easier than ever to get started with addiction care. The growth of telemedicine has boosted access to addiction care for many patients. We have identified that certain types of addiction care are more successful when administered through telemedicine, especially for patients facing social determinants of health or other conditions that limit their ability to travel.
Frontline workers are also among those needing addiction care and it is unfortunately stigmatized, especially for healthcare clinicians. Telemedicine offers a new front door to harm reduction that was previously unavailable. Receiving care privately through telemedicine can reduce fear of negative social or professional impacts. This change in perspective is a necessary first step in supporting frontline workers with addiction care needs.
Using Technology to Reduce Healthcare Provider Burnout
Workit is taking steps to optimize healthcare for both patients and providers, and our technology background has helped us scale to meet this need. We are finding new ways to make electronic health record notetaking more efficient, automating workflows like assessments and administration of cognitive behavioral therapy classes. These improvements allow our clinicians to spend more time in care settings and less time performing administrative tasks that can contribute to burnout. We want our providers to focus directly on their patients and find joy in their work.
With Challenge Comes Opportunity
While it’s difficult to find any silver linings that will emerge from the pandemic, telemedicine has undeniably risen to meet new challenges. Workit is hopeful that the increase in our society’s familiarity with and comfort in virtual environments will encourage consumers to direct their care in a way that will work best for them—which may be from the comfort of their own homes.