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Giving Recovering Addicts a Digital Support System 24/7

March 27, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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The platform used by PaRC to engage recovering addicts Credit: OneHealth

For many patients at Memorial Hermann Health System’s Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC), the toughest part of recovery is heading home.

The treatment center, part of the large multispecialty health system in Houston, aims to provide a foundation for treatment that their patients can build upon and sustain once they leave. That’s not always easy. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the relapse rate for drug addiction after treatment is 40 to 60 percent.

“When you are dealing with changing behaviors and helping people work through their physical symptoms such as withdrawal, you have to get them to point where they began to make the necessary changes to their life and how they can apply those changes to all aspects of their life,” explains PaRC’s CEO, Matt Feehery.

Matt Feehery

That means helping them in “after care,” as PaRC calls it, which takes place for one year after they leave the center. Leaders at the treatment center incorporate tools to help their patients sustain recovery. Each one is given a formal plan of action recommendation for post treatment, which often includes getting them involved with a 12-step program, reconnecting them with their faith, and having them go to weekly support groups.

“The support group gives them the strength necessary to navigate the early recovery period…the rough waters, so to speak. Wanting to use or being in a situation where they want to use is a challenge many have to overcome,” Feehery says.

PaRC has upped the ante when it comes to support groups and brought the concept to a digital environment with a platform called OneHealth (from a Solana Beach, Calif.-based eponymously named company, previously featured for its work with Boston Medical Center). The platform gives patients access online interactive communities right from their phone.

OneHealth: Digital Support Network

For younger patients specifically, PaRC knew something like this would help link them with others who are like-minded and likely to support them in recovery. They considered developing their own specific platform before Feehery became aware of OneHealth. The investment made sense since the vendor had the resources available to create this kind of digital environment already and could help PaRC cast a wide net out to the broader recovery community.

Steve Halterman, Adult Program Counselor & Discharge Planner at PaRC, says the platform allows patients to have a network of recovery available to them 24/7. Users can “check in” with different emoticons of how they are feeling. If it’s a high-risk emotion, a message is sent out to their support network.  The network is developed by the patient and includes their friends, family, and others they recruit for support.

“It’s meant to be their support network. They have to generate and develop it,” Feehery says. There are different ways the center uses it to keep in contact with the patient, but purposefully, they avoiding dispensing any kind of clinical advice over the platform. “This is meant to be a tool in the in the tool box available to them.”

Signs of Success

OneHealth has been integrated into the official after care planning process, says Halterman. Patients are invited to register to the website immediately prior to discharge, and according to statistics provided by the center, 75 percent have done so and 81 percent of those people created user-generated content.  Still despite those positive numbers, both Feehery and Halterman say it’s definitely a challenge to get patients to see the value and opt-in.

“It’s not the type of thing you can just say, ‘Here check this out.’ You really have to hold hands through the initial sign-up process,” Feehery says. He recommends using a full-time staff member to work with patients on this initiative.

Those who have signed on and used the platform have been very successful. When looking at those who graduated “after care” compared to those who hadn’t, one of the variables the graduates had was the use of OneHealth while they were in primary treatment. In fact, every single one had used it.

“Of those who didn’t graduate, less than 50 percent had gotten OneHealth during treatment,” Halterman says. “We can say there is a strong association of success and OneHealth

Feehery adds that the instantaneous nature of the application is incredibly helpful for those recovering addicts. “In the old days you could feel very isolated as an addict in recovery when you are struggling with some emotions, cravings, or with other things. Now, you’ve got a way to get connected rapidly and quickly,” he says.

In the future, Feehery would like to see OneHealth used to communicate more between the center and the patients on recovery initiatives that they can utilize. In this regard, he says there are a lot of possibilities with the platform, whether its workshops, webinars, innovation sessions or something else.

“We’re happy with where it’s going,” he says.

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