Workit Health co-founders Lisa McLaughlin and Robin McIntosh were old friends and recovering addicts who, after years of AA meetings within a supportive community, realized they were starting to lose people they cared about to opioids. They also noticed, if you can use the Internet to order furniture or schedule a hair appointment, there should also be a way to order a treatment program with the same amount of ease. McLaughlin and McIntosh decided to use their knowledge and experience in the tech world to create comprehensive, medication-assisted care that integrates counseling, education and medical treatment—and it’s all online. We sat down with the company’s Head of Community, Kali Lux, about the current state of Workit Health and their plans for the future.
What was the driving force behind starting a telehealth based outpatient treatment program?
Robin and Lisa, WorkIt’s two founders and CEOs, come from tech backgrounds but are also in long-term recovery themselves. They both saw huge strides being made in other areas of medical technology, but addiction treatment was being left behind. They watched friends and acquaintances struggle to get sober, and saw people falling through gaps in current systems of care. They founded Workit Health because they saw a need for accessible and affordable addiction treatment. Inpatient treatment centers often have long waitlists, and those seeking treatment in rural areas of cities like Michigan might have few options. But no matter where you, our current system presents difficulties for many: people with limited transportation can’t make regular office appointments, and those with small children or demanding jobs also find traditional outpatient impossible. Twelve-step works for many, but not everyone wants abstinence and it’s often all or nothing. As people in recovery, Robin and Lisa knew we deserve better. Workit Health meets people where they are, quite literally, in their homes from their smartphones or computers.
Why do you think, even after all this time and research backed data, that there is still a stigma when it comes to receiving medication for opioid addiction?
I think the stigma largely comes from the misinformed belief that all medication isn’t clean. It’s understandable that if you misused prescription medication, you’d desire to be free of prescription medication entirely. At Workit Health, we talk about how in active addiction we often fall into black or white, or all or nothing, thinking. Sometimes it’s easier to keep this going in recovery too—it’s easier to say all medications are “bad” than navigate the gray area that some medications are okay. We all take life-saving medications everyday, like antidepressants, blood pressure medications, or anti-seizure medications. But none of us face stigma for saving our lives with these medications. So why do we judge those taking life-saving medication to treat opioid addiction? It’s easy to say that this stems from NA and I absolutely believe quite a bit of it does—this has been covered a lot in the media. But it also stems from fear and misunderstanding of how addiction works. Addiction is a chronic disease with relapse rates similar to those of other chronic diseases, like diabetes. I struggled with opioid addiction myself, and wasn’t able to quit cold turkey. Medication has helped me in my recovery. I’m proud to say that.
Can you break down what a client would have to do in order to initially receive treatment?
Sure thing! In order to receive treatment at Workit Health Clinic, you call us at 734-329-5419 or fill out the form on our website, and we’ll give you a call. We get some basic information from you about your using history, Suboxone experience, and insurance, and then we’ll schedule you for your first in-person visit. At the in-person visit at our Ann Arbor, Michigan office, you’ll meet with your counselor, who will train you on how to log in to the Workit Health program, join online recovery groups, use our messaging system to stay in touch, and video conference with your care team for your next appointment. After that, you’ll meet with your medical team, usually the medical assistant and a doctor or a nurse practitioner. They’ll take your medical history, talk over your recovery goals, and determine if medication-assisted treatment is right for you.
The Workit website mentions online addiction treatment courses. Can you explain what that would entail for the person seeking treatment?
Our online addiction courses are an essential part of Workit Health’s online recovery program. We offer online addiction courses on a variety of topics, built around core evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, and Narrative Therapy.
All our courses are personalized and responsive. Counselors and coaches can send Workit Health members special courses before big events, when they’re feeling anxious, or in other special situations. As everyone’s recovery goals are different, we have a library of over 800 courses, and build each client a curriculum based on their history and recovery goals. Clients can work on a primary addiction (like opioids) and a secondary addiction (like smoking, drinking, or gambling). The courses support you wherever you are in your journey to recovery, whether you’re ready to moderate, reduce the harm in your using, or come back after a slip and go for total abstinence.
The courses are broken up into six sections, each centered around different therapies and focusing in on different skills: https://www.workithealth.com/blog/online-addiction-courses
If a client is living in a remote area of Michigan where this kind of treatment isn’t readily available, how do they seek out medical care for their addiction after their first appointment at the Ann Arbor location? How is medication management maintained after they are back in their communities?
After they return to their community, they have weekly video conference follow up appointments with their medical care team, as well as online drug testing, online recovery groups, and 24/7 messaging with their counselor when issues arise or they need a motivation boost. Prescriptions are sent to local pharmacies electronically. This is valuable in more rural areas of Michigan, where due to the requirements around prescribing buprenorphine, not as many treatment options are available.
How does online therapy work? Are they all individual therapy sessions, or is there also a group therapy option? How many times do they “meet up” with their counselor, and how long are the sessions?
Weekly online group therapy is included with the flat rate for Clinic, but 1:1 weekly therapy is available for an additional fee. The online group therapy takes place via a videoconference led by a licensed counselor, with a focus on self-care and progress in recovery. For 1:1 individual therapy sessions, members usually prefer to message with their counselor via our chat in the program (which is similar to text messaging) but some have requested phone calls or video conferences, which we also accommodate. Both the groups and individual sessions are an hour, once a week.
What is your hope for Workit Health and the future of this kind of progressive addiction treatment? What have been your successes thus far? Are there plans to expand all over the country to offer these services?
Our hope is to absolutely expand Workit Health into every state, and we’re excited to be expanding in California next. We launched our Michigan clinic about a year ago, and since that period we’ve seen our members grow in recovery and recommend their friends and family to the program, which has been so rewarding. This year we’ve been accredited by the Joint Commission, launched our California Clinic, and brought on a handful of new clinicians. We’re launching a scholarship fund to assist those who can’t afford medication-assisted treatment themselves (called the Workit Foundation). We’re also partnering with employers to provider accessible addiction treatment through the workplace. It is absolutely Workit Health’s vision to be in all fifty states. Down with the waitlist, and welcome to treatment online and on-demand.
Read quotes from Workit Health Clinic members here.
Photos provided by Workit Health; used with permission.
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