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Here’s how digital technology can enhance outpatient addiction treatment

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As research-validated, evidence-based treatments for addiction disorders continue to emerge, the pendulum has begun to swing from the traditional emphasis on a 30-day inpatient treatment model to a primarily outpatient chronic disease management approach. This shift has many advantages for patients, but it also poses some challenges.

Outpatient treatment allows individuals to live their lives and fulfill family and work obligations while receiving the medical care and behavioral therapy necessary for a successful recovery.

{mosads}However, patient retention, compliance, and long-term, consistent follow up with treating clinicians may be more of a concern for outpatient treatment models than for inpatient approaches. It seems now is the perfect time for the emergence of digital technology as a potential solution for some of these challenges.


Digital technology — most specifically, digital therapeutics through smartphone applications — could provide patients in outpatient addiction treatment the daily touch points they need to help support them through the challenges of achieving abstinence and pursuing recovery.

Innovative smartphone apps may allow people battling an addiction to receive private-but-consistent therapy and motivation. Certain apps may allow patients to stay “plugged-in” and manage their treatment.

Digital therapeutics coupled with outpatient treatment could provide patients a strong, supportive, “inpatient-like” environment without an overwhelming cost to the patient in time and money. Stated another way, a smartphone treatment app could potentially provide patients with many of the advantages of quality addiction care while sparing the patient’s freedom to work and participate more fully in family life.

As you read this, apps from digital healthcare companies are already seizing the open space that exists in every patient’s pocket or purse. These apps have begun to address the needs of patient follow-up by providing treatment support through open lines of communication with counselors.

Daily therapeutic exercises on the apps help support patient retention, while reminders help reinforce compliance with patients’ dosing regimens. Some of this technology is already recognized by the FDA. As one might expect, more is on the horizon, potentially to be discovered and developed.

There seems to be no limit to the potential for enhancement of information through digital technology that most Americans can already access. Managing that technology effectively can lead to improvements in health and in other areas of life. The increasing recognition of addiction as a chronic, potentially relapsing medical disease mandates that addiction is managed on a regular, deliberate basis.

Just as Amazon and Uber have revolutionized the retail and taxi industry with new technology, digital therapeutics could potentially be the catalyst to help drive the paradigm shift in the chronic disease management of addiction, allowing more patients to recover at home.

Hence, there is no time like the present to use digital technology to empower millions of Americans to do exactly that — to manage a disease, enhance health care, and ultimately regain control over more of their lives.

Dr. Brent Boyett DO, is the founder and chief medical officer of Pathway Healthcare and Dr. Stephen Taylor, MD, MPH is the chief medical officer, of Behavioral Health Division of Pathway Healthcare.

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