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Dr. Robert Ashford, the founder of RecoveryLink, shared great insights about what peer support is, how RecoveryLink is making a difference in the healthcare industry, and what is in the future for peer support.

We hosted conversations with many innovative leaders during our Going Digital: Behavioral Health Tech Conference. One of these conversations focused on the role of peer support in recovery and how RecoveryLink equips companies to provide advanced services for individuals in recovery. Dr. Robert Ashford, the founder of RecoveryLink, shared great insights about what peer support is, how RecoveryLink is making a difference in the healthcare industry, and what is in the future for peer support. 

What is Peer Support? 

Dr. Ashford explains how peer support in recovery involves people with lived experiences, working one-on-one with individuals to develop a recovery plan with goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (SMART). He says, “assuming that [participants in recovery are] the experts in their own lives, we can work with them to navigate what their long-term recovery plan looks like. It’s the lived-experience component along with the education that is really critical to this mix.” 

Peer support is not intended to replace mental health providers, and Dr. Ashford clarifies some confusion the general public has about the role of peer support specialists. He says, “[medical providers have] their own domain, and we can all do more together rather than addressing those domains in isolation when we don’t have everybody on the coordinated care team that we need, including peers.” Peer support specialists do create clinical medical plans. They create recovery plans and collaborate with individuals for the long term.

What is RecoveryLink? 

RecoveryLink transforms how peer support services are delivered around the country. RecoveryLink offers both the software to enable organizations to operate peer recovery programs and also provides peer support services. 

Dr. Ashford explains how RecoveryLink helps to “digitize their entire practice, engage with people and meet them where they’re at, and improve outcomes for those providers that already exist.” He also emphasizes how companies licensing and utilizing RecoveryLink to transform how they provide recovery support often did not use advanced technology to manage their workloads. He says, “So at the end of the day, who we’re licensing to and who’s using our software is any organization that employs peer support workers… We’re finding that traditional technology, traditional electronic health records, and case management solutions are not built for the recovery support process. They are built with the clinic and medical in mind, and that’s not what recovery support is.” 

RecoveryLink also has its own peer support teams that assist those in need with navigating non-clinical needs such as housing, employment, education, and recovery planning. RecoveryLink partnered with the state of Texas through the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio to build a recovery hotline that leverages technology to assist people in need. This hotline is an omnichannel contact center staffed with peer specialists to help with crisis and digital support services. 

RecoveryLink has engaged over a million people at the start of COVID, providing group-based recovery support. Dr. Ashford explains how group-based recovery can look like “recovery yoga, recovery CrossFit, recovery focus meditation, all recovery meetings, and group-based chats that can be available 24/7.” RecoveryLink started providing group-based recovery in March of 2019, leveraging technology to host over 60 recovery meetings with partners daily for family members, the LGBTQ+ community and individuals, and people who identify as women and men. 

Technology has played a big part in the reach RecoveryLink has made over the past few years, especially among individuals who initiated their recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Ashford says, “If we can engage a million people in 2 years with free group-based recovery supports, that identifies the need and begins to validate the market. There’s a huge need for this – both for people who want to replace or augment or people who don’t have any other choices because they live in service deserts.” 

The Future of Peer Support

In the next few years, Dr. Ashford sees growth in the future of peer support but explains the need for many more peer specialists to join the workforce. He expects we will see more adoption of low threshold and low barrier peer recovery support helping those early on in the substance use or mental health disorder cycle. Dr. Ashford believes more behavioral health providers will embed recovery support in their traditional service lines. They will augment their care, especially if they become reimbursable. Dr. Ashford also sees companies creating complete digital telehealth packages, including peer support for “true individualized digital care.” 

Dr. Ashford explains the need for the peer support workforce to grow and develop a robust support and treatment network. He says, “right now, we estimate that there are about fifty thousand peer support workers in the United States. We need a million over the next ten years, which would have to come with some investments and companies providing well-paying living wage jobs and really articulating and seeing that this is a valuable part of the behavioral health continuum.” 

You can watch our entire conversations with Dr. Ashford here