Online Drug Treatment Plans Show Promise
> 4/23/2009 4:42:41 PM

According to a new Johns Hopkins study, online treatment programs for drug and alcohol abuse may be effective in the short term. Their numbers, in fact, rival or equal those of more traditional in-person approaches. A short-term survey study does not amount to a sea change in health care delivery, but the growing number of stories about online service providers hint at a gradual industry shift toward web-based business models. The study in question was small, involving only 37 subjects who attended a six-week methadone clinic, but its survey results heavily favor a newer tech-based approach to treatment.

Researchers divided the subject pool into two groups: one that followed a traditional treatment route consisting of regular methadone doses and face-to-face group support meetings and one that used video-conferencing software to attend meetings online. Researchers surveyed participants after the six-week program ended, and the web models scored higher in two crucial areas: attendance records and personal satisfaction. Attendance was 90% among the online group, besting that of the control group by nearly 15 points. The web subjects were also reportedly more satisfied with their treatment experience as a whole.

The convenience of the online program for those with home computers and regular internet access is understandable. Many with drug and alcohol problems also have families, full time jobs and demanding schedules. Some also prefer the heightened anonymity of the internet. The video conferencing option allows for a greater degree of privacy during what is certainly a volatile, heavily emotional experience. All addicts experience treatment differently, and the act of attending meetings in person plays a large role for many who are overwhelmed by their addictions, don’t trust themselves to stay clean on their own and need the physical presence of others in order to feel secure. But this study lends credence to the theory that online conferences can, at the very least, help to form an effective treatment plan.

Pricing unfortunately negates the issue for now; the cost of attending online treatment sessions is nearly equal to that of traditional plans. But multiple studies will follow this one, business plans will be developed and online counseling will play an inevitable role in the treatment models of the future. Take it from Clinton-era drug policy czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey: "This Internet delivery behind health care is going to be a big thing for us in the coming years."

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