As a mental health practitioner, you’re always looking for ways to provide the best possible psychological care — specifically, care that is convenient to, and comfortable for, your patients.
Teletherapy — that is, the provision of behavioral therapy services via telecommunications technology like online video-conferencing — can help you do just that. But, to get the most bang for your telehealth buck, you’ve got to optimize your teletherapy setup.
Here are seven major pointers:
1) Use the right equipment.
When done correctly, conducting a visit via online videoconference doesn’t feel all that different than an in-person, face-to-face encounter. The key is ensuring high-quality video resolution and sound.
After all, nothing is more jarring or distracting to a patient than dark, blurry video or muffled, crackling audio. At minimum, you’ll need:
- A computer with a high-res web-cam
- An external web-cam (if you don’t have a built-in camera or the one you have doesn’t have a high enough resolution), and sound input and output (this could be a built-in mic/headphones or an external mic/headphones).
2) Choose software that has security on lock.
Outside of healthcare practice, there’s no shortage of choices for live videoconferencing software. But, as a HIPAA-covered entity, you can’t just use any online video platform.
The discussions you have with your patients are full of protected health information (PHI), and it’s your responsibility to keep that information safe, secure, and confidential. That’s why I highly recommend using a software designed with health care in mind — one that guarantees full HIPAA compliance.
3) Make sure your Internet connection is fast enough.
Even if you have the fanciest computer and camera equipment in the world, you’re not going to create a favorable experience for your patients if your video stream is constantly freezing or lagging. That’s why it’s essential that both you and your clients have speedy enough Internet connections to support a live video feed.
4) Practice in front of the camera.
You don’t have to be a Hollywood A-lister for the camera to love you. Talking to a web-camera might feel awkward at first, but with a little bit of practice, it’ll start to feel more natural. And if you’re comfortable, your patients are more likely to feel comfortable — which sets both of you up for better, more productive therapy sessions.
So, practice video chatting with a friend, colleague, or family member before you jump on a patient call. Even the pros get dress rehearsals, right?
5) Create the right environment.
Even if you’re set up to video-chat at home, make sure you’re projecting an air of professionalism. That means clean, uncluttered backgrounds, closed doors and windows (for privacy), and adequate lighting (try to find natural light if possible, and position your camera so the light is shining on your face, not the back of your head).
Lastly, do your best to remove distracting ambient noise (barking dogs, ringing phones, or blaring televisions, for example).
6) Coach up your patients.
So, you’ve created the perfect teletherapy environment on your end; it’s not going to do you much good if your patient fails to observe the same best practices.
That’s why it’s important that — prior to your session, if possible — you provide your client with guidance on how to ensure the best possible teletherapy experience. That includes everything from having the right equipment and a fast enough Internet connection to finding a quiet place and avoiding potential distractions for the duration of the session.
7) Get your payment ducks in a row.
Make sure you verify a patient’s benefits prior to providing him or her with any telehealth services. That way, you’ll be able to inform the patient of his or her financial responsibility before you conduct any online appointments.
Furthermore, I’d recommend offering an online patient payment option for copays, coinsurances, or fees for services not covered by the patient’s insurance carrier.
Telehealth is perfectly suited to the delivery of mental health services. And when it comes to optimizing your patients’ online healthcare experience, a little effort goes a long way.
With that in mind, stick to the seven tips above, and you’ll be ready to put your best foot — er, face — forward.