The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital innovation around the globe – including spurring on a revolution in telemedicine.
Digital rehab start-up Workit Health, which offers group meetings and one-on-one counselling in the comfort of people’s homes, now helps 10,000 people through its recovery platform – and it could be the key to tackling another epidemic afflicting the US: opioids.
Between March and May 2020, the introduction of lockdown measures in the US coincided with a record rise in drug overdose deaths, with synthetic opioids the main driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Prior to the pandemic, there were barriers to receiving treatment. Your first appointment had to be in person, there was a disincentive for providing telehealth services, as doctors were paid little, and a patient could only receive a week’s supply of medication.
Since COVID-19, The New York Times reports there have been key regulatory changes in the US, which mean all appointments can happen over the phone or online and a month’s supply of medication can be prescribed.
In March, the US government allowed patients to access Medicare funding for telehealth appointments and treatment, helping to kick-start the wider adoption.
Tech for good
In 2014, before the opioid epidemic was labelled as such, Robin McIntosh and Lisa McLaughlin, Workit Health’s co-founders, who met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Oakland, quit their jobs to find a way to “leverage technology to make recovery easier and cheaper”.
Being able to see a doctor, or a counsellor and have treatment prescribed by phone or over the internet has been a long time in coming, says McIntosh, a Schwab Foundation awardee.
“If you can order your food online, but you can’t order your recovery online, it’s a crazy state of affairs. How hard do you have to fight to be sober and clean in this world?” she says.