Hands down, telehealth is the next big thing in service delivery for behavioral and allied health providers. Clients love it. More and more insurance companies pay for it.
Most of us were trained in the “brick-and-mortar” style of service delivery. So, one of the biggest questions providers have is, “How do I get started?”
The two major requirements for providing telehealth are skills/training and technology. Today, we’re talking technology.
The good news is, you don’t have to be an IT whiz to get started. You do, however, need some basic tech gear and knowledge.
If you’re going to practice telehealth, you need a reliable computer. Whether it’s a laptop, tablet or desktop is up to you.
You need a good quality webcam and microphone. Most computers these days come with built-ins that are generally adequate for providing online services. If your computer doesn’t have an integrated webcam or microphone, these can be purchased for relatively low cost.
While not necessary, a headset microphone is definitely a plus. You want to minimize background noise and be able to hear your client clearly.
This is a make-or-break for online providers. You want a strong, reliable internet connection that will allow for smooth video streaming. Constant buffering or loss of connection is frustrating and impedes the therapeutic experience.
While the exact speed recommendations vary, internet speeds of at least 3Mbps download and 1Mbps upload are generally recommended for smooth streaming. Less speed can work but may not be as smooth. (You can check your internet speed at www.speedtest.net)
You’ll also need to determine whether your client has the internet capability to successfully engage in online therapy. Always ask. You don’t want to start a session only to find the client cannot maintain the connection.
Right now, you’re probably thinking, “I got this…Skype!” Keep reading.
When it comes to telehealth services, the same rules for confidentiality and privacy apply as those for face-to-face therapy. You also have to consider internet security.
Platforms like Skype, Google Hangouts and Face Time are NOT HIPAA compliant. What that means for therapists in the U.S. is that if you are using one of these platforms to provide online therapy, you are in violation of the law.
HIPAA requires that any platform used for telehealth services have a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) between the healthcare provider and the technology company. The BAA must guarantee that all security practices and data encryption are HIPAA compliant. Providers must be able to obtain a client’s informed consent prior to conducting the session. Skype and similar video messaging programs do not meet those standards.
The law may vary in other countries but the privacy and security concerns remain the same.
So what’s an ethical provider to do? Choose a platform specifically designed for telehealth services.
TheraPlatform (https://www.theraplatform.com) offers a secure, HIPAA-compliant specifically designed for the provision of telehealth services. Its user-friendly interface offers features specifically designed to meet the needs of speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, mental health and behavioral therapists. When you choose TheraPlatform, your virtual office is secure and available when you need it.
As daunting as telehealth may sound, it is the cutting edge of service delivery. Take time to get the right training and the right tech gear and you are on your way!