A new method to help combat and control opioid addiction, while reducing the chances of relapse, has been developed by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Epharmix, a digital health firm. It utilizes automated text messages and phone calls to patients under opioid addiction treatment.
The messages ask patients if they are feeling okay or feeling the potential of a relapse. There is also a panic button for requesting immediate assistance. According to a Epharmix, time saved from individual phone calls and in-person visits not only cuts costs but allow health-care workers to an treat increasing number of patients. The text messaging approach can result in additional benefits, according to study published April 17, 2018, in NEJM Catalyst, a publication of The New England Journal of Medicine Group.
Among them are patients and caregivers say they prefer the ease and familiarity of text message communication. Texting is convenient, immediate and nonjudgmental. It lets patients better connect to care providers.
According to Avik Som, the study’s senior author, and a MD/PhD student at Washington University, “There is an urgent need to address the opioid crisis in powerful new ways.” Som helped develop the text-messaging technology as chief medical officer at Epharmix. The company creates mobile technologies aimed at managing chronic conditions such as diabetes, depression and hypertension.
To be sure, this new approach is not a treatment in itself. The mobile technology augments cognitive behavioral therapy, support services and other treatments for opioid addiction. Som says that text messaging is not intended to replace important programs or face-to-face contact between patients and providers. It is considered another tool that is affordable and immediate.
Significantly, text messaging can be beneficial in that it does not necessitate costly, time-consuming measures such as opening substance-abuse centers, and training and hiring new staff. Additionally, texts allow caregivers to monitor patients daily with automated questions such as “Have you used in the last day?” and “Have you had urges to use?” Patients who reported struggling received automated follow-up questions that classified their risk for relapse as high, moderate or low. At the same time, health-care workers were alerted to intervene immediately.