Use of telehealth for counselling services delivered by Australian AOD treatment organisations

November 2023

NCETA research team: Dr Ashlea Bartram, Ms Christina Norris, Mr Armin Muminovic, Prof Jacqueline Bowden

Project advisory group: April Long, SMART Recovery, Dan Lubman, Turning Point, Dean Ebejer, Alcohol and Other Drugs Branch, Department of Health and Aged Care, Ele Morrison, AIVL, Jill Rundle, AADC, Lauren Brites, Medicare Policy and Review, Department of Health and Aged Care, Nicole Lee, Hello Sunday Morning, Scott Wilson, ADAC

Project description: 

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions on in-person interactions led to a rapid uptake of telehealth across the health system, including within the alcohol and other drug (AOD) sector. While face-to-face services have now resumed, many organisations have continued to offer telehealth appointments via video or telephone.

Telehealth has the potential to offer benefits to AOD clients such as increased access and convenience, and there is evidence to suggest that, at least in some circumstances, telehealth delivery of AOD treatment is feasible and effective. However, telehealth delivery can also present challenges to AOD workers, who must establish a therapeutic relationship and make clinical assessments based on fewer or no visual cues. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the digital divide, with many AOD clients coming from sociodemographic groups that are digitally excluded, such as the unemployed, people with low incomes, people with disabilities, people who are homeless, and people from regional and remote areas with limited digital infrastructure.

This project aims to strengthen our understanding of the potential role for telehealth in the delivery of AOD treatment services, focusing specifically on counselling services delivered in stand-alone specialist AOD settings. It will involve interviews with AOD service provide representatives and clients who have used telehealth, a rapid review of international evidence, and an audit of guides from related fields. Outcomes will include a brief for policymakers and guide for Australian AOD organisations interested in incorporating or expanding the use of telehealth within their counselling services.