Blue Cross launches virtual substance use disorder treatments

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is developing telehealth programs with behavioral health providers so patients with substance use disorder can undergo detoxification and treatment at home during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our program meets people where they live. By treating substance use disorder patients at home using secure telehealth technology, we also look at ways to help bring the family into the treatment process and treat the whole person,” said Dr. William Beecroft, medical director for behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “We may find this approach could change the status quo for substance use disorder treatment in the future.”

Substance use disorder is a condition that affects a person’s brain and behavior and makes the individual lose control of their use of a substance. Substances can be legal — like alcohol, nicotine or prescription opioid painkillers — or illegal, like heroin or illicitly obtained medication.

In collaboration with providers, Blue Cross is using evidence-based research to repackage existing services into a virtual format to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for low-to-moderate-risk patients with substance use disorders.

Substance abuse patients would traditionally be in treatment programs that require frequent office visits and potential hospitalization. Many people with substance use disorder also have underlying health conditions, including heart disease and liver diseases, that put them at higher risk of problems in the detoxification process, and these factors need to be weighed against the risk of severe illness from potential exposure to COVID-19.

Telehealth treatment for substance use disorders varies by patient and provider but could include an initial medical assessment and vital signs check; multiple check-ins with doctors, nursing and social workers throughout the day; virtual group therapy; psychotherapy sessions; and medication-assisted or facilitated treatment.

Patients also are connected to online meetings provided by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The program uses telehealth to deliver services provided through traditional intensive outpatient programs and partial hospitalization programs.

According to Blue Cross, the Department of Veteran Affairs successfully used telehealth to treat veterans with substance use disorders, especially in reaching veterans who live in rural areas.

Blue Cross and Blue Care Network members seeking help for substance use disorder can find providers participating in telehealth programs by calling the BCBSM or BCN Behavioral Health Services phone number on the back of their member ID card. Call center clinical team members will direct members with information and referrals.

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