Published in The Journal Of Employee Assistance
Today’s modern, technological world changes at a blinding pace. Just a few weeks ago Apple, which is arguably the greatest symbol of these trends, announced the IPad 4, just months after releasing the now outdated, IPad 3. These constant advancements in technology shouldn’t simply be cool toys for us to play with, or more ways to entertain ourselves, but can also serve as a means to help the many people whom we serve as healthcare and employee assistance professionals. In recent articles, many of the major news outlets, including the New York Times, CNN and Forbes, among others, have noted that the behavioral healthcare field is finally innovating with new methods of technology to create more efficient and effective means of providing healthcare to patients. New Electronic Medical Records systems help organizations easily track and access patients’ information and systems like business intelligence dashboards help departments and groups collaborate more effectively. This technology revolution isn’t limited to doctors and large organizations, but is one that each and every EAP can take part in.
When we looked into the rising use of technology and how we could adapt it to the employee assistance setting, we saw an opportune opening when it came to aftercare. Aftercare is basically the provision of services to individuals who have completed treatment and who are in need of continued observation and support. While aftercare comes in many forms, it is basically a way to continue to help people after they’ve left a structured treatment environment. Aftercare is an important part of the rehabilitation process for an employee because the costs of substance use in the workplace can be astronomical and employees returning from treatment programs are often still extremely vulnerable to the temptations of using and abusing. However, the current systems of aftercare are often cumbersome and difficult for employees to access and sometimes do not provide those employees with care directed towards their own circumstances to best help them.
It was with this background and setting that we decided to identify the components that we felt were key to aftercare and try to use technology to bring these components together in a manner that would be easily accessible to employees who have returned from treatment. Those components included:
- Case Management
- Social Connectivity
- Relevant Resources
- Brain Wellness
- Feedback and Positive Reinforcement
Ensuring that employees are continuing to do well and making sure that their case is properly managed is arguably the most difficult part of the aftercare process. Trying to coordinate schedules with a case manager, having a comfortable and easily accessible place to meet are just some of the challenges that face case managers of employees in aftercare. Using technology we can rethink the way we view aftercare and alter our approaches to connecting employees, case managers, and the resources they need. By using electronic means of communication through the internet, such as those used in our T.E.A.M. (Technology Enhanced Aftercare Monitoring) system, case managers can instantly communicate with clients from any location, even from the comfort of their own homes. Check-ins can be made as needed while both case managers and clients do not have to worry about the security of their meeting and scheduling a time and place to meet. Additionally, communicating online allows case managers to search or collect necessary resources for a client prior to, during, and even after their check-ins to further help the case management process.
Sometimes employees have made real progress in treatment only to return to the workplace and face difficulty implementing the skills and strengths they learned in practice. Sometimes they simply forget. One of the ways around this problem is by providing employees with continued education after they’ve finished treatment and making sure that they follow-up and understand the skills they learn. Using tools online can make the process of aftercare education not only accessible, but interactive and comfortable as well. Colleges, tutoring programs and many other educational programs have begun using these means to provide education to people all over the world. The same can be true for healthcare providers and EAPs. Using online programs, or integrating educational materials into an online aftercare program, as we do with the T.E.A.M. program, EAPs can provide education from an easily accessible source that employees can use from the comfort and convenience of their own schedules.
We can’t kid ourselves anymore; social media has taken over our world. Every moment of most of our lives is now broadcast for everyone to see, and many of our “friends” are now a digital group of people whom we connect with. From sharing pictures and videos to posting our thoughts on range of topics, social media has tremendously changed the way we remain connected. It’s also long been the practice of healthcare providers and EAPs to encourage and sometimes even require clients to maintain connected through some form of social support and the research supports it. Whether it’s attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings or some form of community support, research has illustrated the importance of interpersonal relationships to all people, not just those in recovery. As healthcare providers, we also recognize the time constraints of clients of EAP programs, such as balancing family, life and work. With T.E.A.M., we aimed to utilize this changing trend in connectedness by giving clients a comfortable and safe online social environment to support their recovery.
One of the hardest parts of managing the case of an employee in aftercare, is finding, providing and coordinating the right resources for each and every employee. Each employee has his or her own, different needs and finding them the right resources is often difficult. With online search engines becoming more efficient and accurate, helping employees find resources is easier than ever. Finding and contacting resources online can be as simple as a click and an email, and enabling employees to find their own resources by going over the relatively clear searches online, allowing employees to help tailor aftercare plans to their own personas.
As EAPs and Healthcare Professionals, one of the difficult tasks we face is monitoring the activities of those who are in aftercare. Many clients who enter a treatment program acknowledge the extent to which addiction has affected their lives. Despite their own personal efforts to achieve sobriety, most clients recognize treatment, direction, and guidance is needed from medical and clinical professionals. Since monitoring aims to assess impairment from substances either through face to face evaluation or self report, we wanted to also make Urinalysis available as a form of monitoring and confirmation on a Random, For-Cause, and Post Accident Testing basis. Research also supports the use of testing as a deterrent, in addition to it being commonly used by private and public institutions as a measure of continued recovery. Within T.E.A.M. those utilizing UA testing are able to not only hold themselves accountable but also provide testing reports to family, employers, courts, etc. that require evidence of progress.
Often times, employees who have suffered from either a substance or mental health problems find that when they come back to work, they simply can’t perform the way that they used to. While sometimes this problem may just be due to having to reintegrate into the workforce, often time these issues are due to cognitive deficits that employees developed from their substance or mental issues. For a long time, many people felt that improving brain functioning had to be specially tailored or very clinical, making the process labored for an employee. However, recently many new and innovative programs have developed to help employees and others with brain problems keep up on their brain wellness. These programs, many of which are easily accessible online, can provide another means to foster and encourage growth and improvement in aftercare. Conclusion
We recognize that there are many who will be hesitant, or even reject the idea of sharing the intricate details of illness and disease through an online community. Even with the closed doors of a meeting or treatment providers experienced in developing rapport, individuals always remain concerned that the information they share will be judged or used against them. However balancing these concerns and sharing openly and honestly in a manner which is most comfortable, is not only is essential to effective aftercare but should be available to anyone who seeks the continued assistance towards a better a quality of life. By using technology we begin to address the old challenges of aftercare such as time, cost, and location through providing individuals with a single location to focus their recovery efforts. Continuing the structure, flow of education, ease of communication, as well as monitoring for signs of difficulty and/or relapse are essential to increase the probability continued of recovery and reduction of relapse factors. As our world keeps up is ever drive towards a technological future, it is imperative that we take a good look at this future landscape and see what it has to offer us as EAPs and healthcare providers.
Written by Jared Friedman M.A. & Miles Murdaugh, M.A., CEAP