In an article entitled “A New Emphasis on Telehealth,” published by the American Psychological Association (APA), telehealth is discussed as an effective and in-demand alternative to in-person treatment while best practice tips are outlined for psychologists currently considering telemedicine for their practice.
The article notes that the most successful implementation of telehealth typically occurs after an in-person evaluation. They explain, “the in-person intake allows for thorough assessment, history taking, proper identification of the patient, including examination of a driver’s license, assessment of grooming and hygiene, substance abuse, movement and speech aberrations, general health and social skills. This model leads to a greater likelihood of adherence to evidence-based treatment as well as safety precautions.”
It’s also advised that psychologists using telemedicine should adjust their informed consent discussions accordingly, including elements such as “the written authority to contact identified family and other treating professionals in the client’s local area in case the therapist needs emergency backup.”
An interesting point made in the article relates to setting limits in regards to what methods of communication are appropriate between a psychologist and their patient. Are they comfortable with a client emailing them and texting them? How about a client friending them on Facebook or following them on Twitter? In the process of transitioning treatment from its traditional space to this newer and somewhat undefined medium, lines can blur. Establishing these limits early in the implementation process can avoid confusion down the line.
A number of more technical tips are also included in the piece: ensuring that your camera is at a suitable height and checking that your volume is at an optimum level for you and your client, setting the right tone for the session.
An interesting and thought-provoking point is raised in regards to those experienced practitioners who remain reluctant or unconvinced by the potential merits of telehealth: “while many psychologists have their concerns about telepractice, most recognize that if psychologists don’t venture into this new area of consumer demand, less experienced mental health professionals will.” Phrased in such a way, it almost implies an obligation for established and qualified professionals to embrace the growing trend of telehealth, to ensure that dependence on telemedicine does not necessitate a lesser quality of care.
As technology becomes increasingly integrated in our daily lives, it offers a unique opportunity to augment and supplement traditional treatment. Consumer demand for telehealth is undeniable: according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, nearly 80 million Americans live in a mental health professional shortage area. This demand is only projected to increase, particularly among the younger patient demographic, who are “more accustomed to the convenience of online commerce and keeping up with friends and family via social networking websites.” For them, “interacting with a therapist online may become just another convenience that’s expected.”
Telemedicine is undoubtedly the future of the industry, offering increasingly innovative and reliable ways to augment and supplement more traditional care, while providing relief for the significant number of Americans for whom traditional care is either unavailable or impractical.
To read “A New Emphasis on Telehealth” in its entirety, please click here.
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