South Dakota will use federal funding and state-of-the-art technology to reach out to people with drug and alcohol abuse problems who live in the most remote areas of the vast state. People living in rural and inaccessible areas frequently live too far from treatment centers, leaving this segment of the population at risk for relapse and even arrest. Without the option of treatment, judges must sentence offenders to prison rather than sending them to rehabilitation. South Dakota now plans to connect those with drug and alcohol abuse problems with substance abuse counselors and clinicians using telemedicine technology.
Many medical professionals now use telemedicine to communicate with patients. To utilize telemedicine technology, the patient uses a computer to get services he would normally receive in person, such as consultation and follow-up appointments with a clinician.
Bringing Telemedicine to Rural South Dakota
The U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded $100,000 to the state’s Department of Social Services, according to an article in the Argus Leader, to help the state implement the pilot program. The department awarded service contract to two telemedicine providers that will serve rural areas in three districts across South Dakota.
The initiative to incorporate telemedicine into routine care practices came as the result of South Dakota’s Public Safety Improvement Act of 2013, which made sweeping changes to the way the state handled non-violent drug offenders. The Act also authorizes the state’s Supreme Court to set up drug courts across South Dakota, and allows those with non-violent drug offenses to opt for treatment rather than imprisonment.
The department hopes to have services in place for those who need it by this fall. The deputy secretary of the Department of Social Services, Amy Iversen-Pollreis, noted the telemedicine service would be similar to what psychiatry professionals already use. She also said that other states were using telemedicine in this way but that the use of this modern technology to treat drug and alcohol abuse is still relatively uncommon.
While uncommon, more clinicians are using telemedicine to help the patients in rural and under served areas get the medical care they need. In a recent survey, 89 percent of healthcare administrators expect telemedicine to transform the American healthcare system within the next decade.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will increase its use of telemedicine to reach to veterans living in rural areas. Recent legislation introduced by the U.S. Senate would require its mobile vet centers and medical centers to be capable of providing telemedicine services to the veterans they serve.
While the use of telemedicine will likely grow in the coming decade, especially among people living in rural areas, telemedicine can never fully replace personal contact and a comprehensive medical evaluation.
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