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Telehealth makes recovery work smoother at High Point

Like most of us, High Point Treatment Center has been adjusting, and then adjusting some more, to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 virus.

Mandated shutdowns and social distancing requirements announced in late winter and early spring put the New Bedford center’s substance use recovery work at risk. But, like other behavioral and healthcare organizations, High Point responded by getting very good at offering recovery support in new ways, specifically via telehealth.

If you’re not familiar with it, telehealth involves the use of web-based or telephone technology to provide health care remotely without requiring patients to travel to the clinic or medical site. For High Point, the transition started with telephone sessions but soon moved on to Zoom video calls, according to Michael Smith, High Point program director.

Video calls allow patients to access recovery support from the privacy of their homes using smartphones or computers. It’s particularly helpful for those who have medical disabilities that make it difficult to travel, or the lack of a driver’s license or need for daycare for children.

There is also less risk of becoming infected from the coronavirus.

Becoming used to using Zoom for treatment has been a process of discovering when it works best and when it makes effective treatment more difficult.

For example, it’s more difficult to use when starting new patients because staff can’t screen them to determine if they are still using substances, Smith said. They also can’t ask for a urine sample.

There are also differing levels of technological comfort among High Point staff, with some adapting to Zoom set-ups more fluidly than others.

“Some staff are really excited about it; some are not,” Smith said.

And access to technology can be a sore point for some.

“We assume people have smartphones and wifi and their technology is advanced enough to do this,” said Smith. “But the reality is, especially with the population we serve, it’s not uncommon for people to not have any of that stuff.”

Despite the challenges, the addition of these remote appointments has been a positive for staff and patients and Smith believes the video sessions will continue post-pandemic. It’s a useful tool for those patients who are reluctant to or have anxiety about recovery support work.

“Just thinking about the population in general (that we work with), it tends to be isolated by nature. This is easier for people, in the privacy of their own home,” said Smith.

Zoom counseling and support groups are one of several new and in-process initiatives that Smith said is helping High Point better support the New Bedford community.

Other initiatives include adding a support group for anxiety as well as one for relapse prevention. There are also plans to have a dietician on staff, and potentially add acupuncture treatment.

“Here in New Bedford, we’re trying to add more services to support community needs under the circumstances,” said Smith, referring to the impact of COVID-19.

The recent addition of a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic is also part of High Point’s expanded treatments. That shift added medical treatment to High Point behavioral services, a move Smith called the ideal goal for patient care.

In the past, recovery treatment has been defined by silos, he said. There has been a medical silo, a behavioral health silo, and a law enforcement silo. Getting each silo to communicate better will improve all around treatment for people.

“We are trying to be proactive,” said Smith. “To make sure we are giving the best care that we can by engaging patients in any mechanism that allows us to help them.”

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