Technology addiction has been a hot-button topic for some time now, but with the growing prevalence of technology and Internet use in medical treatment, it’s important for us to understand and recognize the role that tech will play in our industry in the years to come. Face- to-face (F2F) interaction has been gradually reduced in our daily lives since the advent of the Internet, not just between friends and family, but even between therapist and patient. The development of online therapies and online recovery programs has created a new dynamic for healthcare, one that has its own pros and cons. But perhaps by embracing online healthcare we can improve patient enrollment, engagement and ultimately recovery.
Technology addiction and our daily intake of screen time have been on a steady rise. With the invention of Netflix, mobile gaming, digital streaming, social media and many other leisure activities brought on by portable tech, screens are now everywhere. We take our screens into our beds, our bathrooms, even risking great injury by using them during our daily commute. It’s clear that our connection to our screens isn’t going to be lessened anytime soon. Rather, all trends point to increasing use of technology in our daily lives over time. As such, it is essential that we understand the way technology will shape enrollment, retention and effectiveness of recovery programs.
Online recovery has been a growing trend, putting the ubiquity of technology to good use as a healthcare supplement. While essential for rural communities where doctors' commutes to visit patients can be extreme, this trend also provides access to patients who are otherwise shy or unable to drive or commit to extensive recovery care. At the very least, providing access to therapy, recovery groups and Alcoholics Anonymous services through the Internet is a great starting point. This brings more information and easier access for people who are otherwise intimidated or limited by conventional treatment options. In the best scenario, these programs could develop entire networks for patients to feel secure, included and engaged with treatment.
An article in the journal Addiction Research and Theory (“When Support is Needed: Social Support Solicitation and Provision in an Online Alcohol Use Disorder Forum”) discussed an interesting proposal: how communities can be primed to respond positively and affirmatively toward addiction recovery. In part, this priming can curb the negative stigma of addiction and can encourage sending victims of addiction toward recovery programs. In this scenario, people with addiction will have a variety of social circles supporting their recovery, from immediate family to social support and government programs to online support groups. In this model, the rise of online recovery over F2F doesn’t affect recovery prospects as deeply, as it becomes another avenue for engaging patients.
Long-term engagement can also be enhanced by using social programs such as this, as they can build long-term relationships that are unhindered by typical real-life barriers such as scheduling, physical distance or economic limitations around transportation.
Online recovery as its own stand-alone treatment still faces lots of hurdles and criticisms. There are certainly advantages to online, some of which are surprising. A study by Donald S. Grant (“Has Social Media Begun to 'Sponsor' Addiction Recovery?: A Study of Face-to-Face Versus Online Recovery Support”) found that patients were less likely to lie about their sober time during online therapy as compared to F2F therapy, and also were less likely to be drunk or high during online therapy. However, F2F still showed better long-term results than online recovery.
Online recovery is still a developing technology, but the results are promising. It is still not clear exactly where this technology fits into a typical recovery program. More research should be done to understand how, or if, we can apply better standards of practice to improve the long-term results of online recovery programs, or if these programs act better as a funnel to attract patients to face-to-face recovery programs.