How Virtual Care Can Address Gaps in Opioid Treatment

The following is a guest contributed post by Lee Horner, Synzi CEO

The opioid crisis has been widely documented and discussed over the past few years as its impacts continue to intensify across the country. The CDC has shared frightening statistics related to the increase in opioid-related deaths: for example, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was five times higher in 2016 vs. 1999. Two-thirds of all 63,600 overdose deaths in the US in 2016 involved an opioid, averaging 115 opioid overdose deaths each day. According to an AHRQ brief, opioid-related cases are flooding emergency rooms and hospitals across the country. The rate of opioid-related emergency department (ED) visits increased 99.4 percent between 2005 and 2014, and the rate of opioid-related inpatient stays increased 64.1 percent during this period. The Council of Economic Advisers has estimated that the epidemic may cost more than $500 billion in annual healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice costs.

Engaging Patients at the Initial Point of Care

Many communities affected by the opioid epidemic are struggling to provide specialized comprehensive resources to treat addiction. Insufficient numbers of specialists located close to a community can mean that individuals might not have access to proper diagnoses and treatments near their homes. These patients may need to travel great distances — requiring significant driving time and expenses — to reach a facility with specialists who have the expertise needed for opioid-related cases. In these instances, virtual care technology can provide crucial support throughout the treatment and recovery process. At the initial point of care, such as in the ED for example, virtual care technology can give the ED staff immediate access to remote specialists who can conduct virtual consults and provide patients diagnoses and decisions about appropriate next steps during the initial phase of therapy. Virtual consults can also help minimize the wait time associated with seeing a provider and receiving needed treatment.

In addition, virtual care technology can help patients who may initially hesitate to seek help at local clinics. Some individuals may worry about being seen entering “known” treatment clinics and may fear negative impact to their reputation or professional standing within the local community if they are recognized. At related points of care, such as a primary care physician’s office, virtual care technology can connect patients with appropriate off-site specialists, regardless of the distance between healthcare settings. Providing initial virtual consults and ongoing virtual visits at traditional points of everyday care can help patients receive timely and quality care in the settings they are more used to accessing other forms of healthcare.

Supporting Ongoing Recovery and Treatment

Ongoing care is critical to helping reduce relapse rates. If follow-up treatment is inconvenient and/or inaccessible, patients may skip the appointments needed to ensure adherence to the treatment and therapy. Virtual care technology can be leveraged to turn the patient’s home, for example, into a follow-up point of care, allowing for easy and convenient engagement in the recovery plan from the safety and security of the patient’s own home. Frequent touchpoints serve as important aspects of the treatment plan, as they provide support for individuals who want to recover but cannot expend the time nor costs associated with driving to/from (or staying at) hospitals or treatment centers. By providing comprehensive counseling services to patients in recovery via virtual visits, healthcare organizations can connect these patients to the help they need on an ongoing basis.

Overcoming Limited Access to Care in Rural Areas

Rural areas, which have long struggled with healthcare access, have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic and, as a result, have been grappling with the challenges of providing comprehensive care to the local population. Many rural communities rely heavily on manual labor jobs that can cause injuries and/or chronic pain —which all too frequently lead to an opioid prescription, opioid reliance, and then opioid abuse and addiction. Accessing initial treatment and ongoing therapy is particularly challenging for rural populations as the number of local clinics and specialists providing addiction treatment and therapy often fall short of the demand.

Offsite specialists value virtual care tools as they let them see, hear, and observe patients in real time in order to make prompt decisions throughout the continuum of care. Rural residents value the access to available, convenient, and comprehensive care, whether they are inpatient or outpatient. In this way, virtual care technology can provide rural patients with access to specialists who can prescribe and manage the treatment needed to deal with opioid addiction. This technology can support the recovery and treatment process at any point of care, and regardless of the Wi-Fi or cellular connection available.

Improving Access and Engagement via Virtual Care

Virtual care technology can help clinics and hospitals fill the gaps in resources to deliver comprehensive care amidst the opioid epidemic. These platforms can also support the collaboration and continuation of care amongst local providers and offsite specialists, turning any setting into a point of care for opioid-related conditions. Specialist reach and resonance can extend beyond the traditional four walls of a clinic into a community hospital ER, a local provider’s office, and ultimately, the most convenient and comfortable point of care – the patient’s own home. By effectively engaging patients throughout the treatment plan and providing convenient access to ongoing addiction counseling services, virtual care technology can be a critical piece of the puzzle to help keep patients better engaged in the recovery and treatment process to better combat the opioid epidemic.



About the Author: Lee Horner, CEO, is responsible for corporate strategy and development at Synzi, with an emphasis on revenue growth, product direction and customer satisfaction.  Recognized as an innovator in technology and healthcare, Lee is focused on using technology to advance the timing and quality of care delivery.  His career includes over 25 years of enterprise operating experience, with a proven track record in creating and operating successful organizations that develop new technologies designed to transform the healthcare IT industry.

Prior to launching Synzi, Lee was the President of Stratus Video Telehealth and successfully launched several innovative telehealth solutions into the marketplace. His management experience also includes his serving as President of CareCloud software, a leader in the EHR marketplace, and Senior Vice President of Sage Healthcare.  Under his direction at Sage, Lee led the organization to triple digit growth and the sale of the company to Vista Private Equity. To learn more, visit