14:57 PM

Telehealth to Tackle Addiction by Rewarding Recovery



New technology pilot program offers dignity, empowerment and financial incentives to help Horizon members in recovery from a substance use disorder.

By Thomas Vincz, Public Relations Manager

Even in the best of times, overcoming addiction is a daunting challenge. With COVID-19, stress, social isolation and the logistical difficulty of getting into treatment make this challenge far greater. To better support motivation in recovery during these difficult times, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ) is working with DynamiCare Health to launch a new telehealth recovery program. Launching in May, this pilot program will enlist approximately 280 members across New Jersey who are struggling with substance use disorder (SUD).

In this pilot, members are matched with a telehealth recovery coach and receive breath and saliva testing equipment that works through a mobile app to support recovery remotely. Breath and saliva tests are performed fully remotely through the app over selfie video for verification. For staying sober and staying in treatment, members can earn rewards. This innovative, well-rounded approach earned DynamiCare a 2019 New York Times’ Good Tech Award and a $1M prize from the State of Ohio in recognition of their impact on the opioid epidemic there.

The DynamiCare program integrates a number of powerful evidence-based techniques such as motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and “contingency management,” which encourages positive habits through financial incentives. Contingency management has proven to be among the most effective evidence-based behavioral interventions for SUDs – researched in more than 100 randomized controlled trials and recommended by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Surgeon General.

Until now, this method has been rarely used, but it is a desperately needed option. Over 20 million Americans have an SUD. The costs to society are enormous in terms of human suffering, loss of life, and strain on the health care system. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a great need for telehealth options that can help individuals recover where they live.

“We know contingency management has been proven to work, and Horizon BCBSNJ is committed to pursuing innovative approaches to help keep our members on the road to recovery,” said Rachel Goldberg, Horizon BCBSNJ’s Director of Behavioral Health Partnerships and Product Development. “The DynamiCare technology platform helps make contingency management easier and more accessible for those who need it most.”

Even beyond dealing with the pandemic, the American health care system has been buckling for over a decade under the cost of untreated or poorly managed SUDs. Health care costs for people with a SUD are three times greater, or $1,000 more per month, than those without a SUD, and evidence-based treatment has been shown not only to improve outcomes but also to save money for both the health care system and society as a whole.

How does DynamiCare work?

Members can be referred into the DynamiCare program by the Horizon Behavioral HealthSM care management team, who can be reached at 1-800-626-2212. Members can also apply to participate in the pilot online at https://horizon.dynamicarehealth.com. There is a $50 participation fee, which can be earned back by the member within the first month through the reward system.

Once enrolled, members are matched with one of DynamiCare’s certified Recovery Coaches, who are in recovery themselves, and trained to provide encouragement, accountability and hope to support the member. The program offers members objective progress-tracking through random saliva and breathalyzer tests. These tests are completed over selfie video in the smartphone app and are validated by clinical staff.

“With coronavirus disrupting the traditional health care system, the time to integrate digital tools into addiction treatment is now,” says Eric Gastfriend, Co-Founder and CEO of DynamiCare Health. “DynamiCare supports people in recovery by providing them with substance testing, self-guided therapy and a personal recovery coach that they can access anytime, anywhere, from their phone.”

The program uses cutting-edge GPS technology that can automatically check members into everything from medical appointments to AA meetings. The app can also record and reward patients for their participation in telehealth meetings and appointments. This technology promotes accountability in members and provides transparency for the recovery care team.

The DynamiCare app contains a library of more than 60 self-guided therapy modules based on cognitive behavioral therapy. These short lessons teach crucial recovery skills such as how to deal with cravings, triggers, loneliness and boredom. Each module contains open-ended questions that allows members to self-reflect on the process.

Completing successful substance tests, appointments and other recovery-based activities earns positive rewards for members. Horizon BCBSNJ members can earn up to $500 in rewards over the course of the 12-month program. The rewards come loaded on a smart debit card, which blocks access to bars, liquor stores and cash withdrawals to protect the member from risky spending.

Behind DynamiCare’s technology is an emphasis on human connection. Both DynamiCare’s recovery coaches and other health care providers can monitor the member’s progress, adjust their program settings and intervene when they miss appointments or test positive.

Going beyond the technology

Human connection is important for reducing the enormous human toll that SUD brings to New Jersey. That’s because a complicated medical condition like SUD requires attention to both mind and body.

The two-year pilot with DynamiCare is part of Horizon BCBSNJ’s five-year plan to invest part of the $125 million it expects in refunds resulting from federal tax reform into several significant areas, including mental health, substance use prevention and addiction and recovery.

Gaining access to consumer-friendly, on-demand technologies is one of the reasons Horizon BCBSNJ is pursuing a change to its corporate structure. By becoming a non-profit mutual, Horizon BCBSNJ will have greater strategic and operational flexibility to accelerate investments in innovations that improve health care quality, cost and convenience.

“A comprehensive strategy is needed to tackle the opioid epidemic,” says Allen Karp, Executive Vice President for Health Care and Transformation for Horizon BCBSNJ. “With the DynamiCare platform, we are building collaborative partnerships in every area to help our members realize better, more affordable care and a better patient experience.”