Telehealth technology and telerehabilitation have been used since 1998 with their pervasiveness increasing over the past two decades as research demonstrated telehealth’s effectiveness in several types of clinical settings. Many common conditions generally diagnosed in the mental, occupational, speech and physical therapy categories have been successfully treated through telehealth technology.
While telehealth technology provides benefits to the clinician and client, successful telehealth sessions are dependent on factors such as client use and acceptance as well as technological reliability and constant iteration to keep current with new advances and practices and the changing tastes of consumers.
Advantages of telehealth technology
From a clinical perspective, excellent client outcomes are always a great motivator for the adoption and continuous use of telehealth technology. For the past few decades, clients have generally embraced teletherapy and treatment.
According to one telemental therapy study, client response to telehealth sessions was generally positive.
- “It’s splendid once you grow into it,” one marriage and family telehealth client stated.
- “When you go to an office, it’s a bit intimidating … with telehealth we have stayed in a known environment which makes therapy a bit less overwhelming,” another client noted.
- “I love the fact that I do not have to go into any particular building physically in order to have a soulful discussion about my issues and challenges,” one participant said.
This sentiment is reflected in a separate Harris poll from 2021 which indicated that 84% of U.S. patients prefer a telehealth option and that offering online access and telehealth could be the key to patient and client loyalty for practitioners.
In addition to a client’s willingness to utilize and enjoy new technology, therapists may be further incentivized on the business/operations side to use telehealth technology as it can grow their practices. With telehealth technology, therapists can expand their service area to remote or rural areas and reduce cancellations and no-shows – a common issue with in-person visits.
Additionally, a HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platform integrated with an EHR, can keep administrative tasks at a minimum while providing group practices and solo practitioners the chance to offer telehealth technology to their clients without a major financial burden.
Concerns with telehealth technology
While the advantages of telehealth technology seem clear for most therapists and clients, some have expressed concerns about potential lack of privacy and technological reliability.
“Sometimes, it can be hard to communicate with the therapist when there is lag time or connection issues,” one client participant commented during a study.
The good news is relatively simple steps can be taken to address these concerns. With a reliable, secure and HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platform, updated personal equipment and the application of a few best practices, you can ensure a smooth teletherapy session with your clients.
Video conferencing vendors
While numerous teletherapy tools are available on the market, not all of them guarantee the same level of efficiency or security. When vetting the best solution, you’ll need to understand the technical requirements (ie., minimum Internet speed) and whether clinicians need to download software to a computer or from the cloud. Another important factor is whether the video conferencing program is HIPAA compliant.
While these questions establish a solid foundation for choosing a vendor, we cover this topic at a deeper level in our telehealth technology class.
Technological reliability and privacy
When it comes to reliability, both the client and clinician need to be aligned in using solid technology for an optimal experience.
Recommended equipment for a smooth telehealth session includes:
A newer computer
A fast Internet speed
Minimum download 10 MB/sec
Minimum upload 10 MB/sec
Latency: Ping of 25 or less
A built-in or external webcam
A built-in or external mic
Therapists and clients can also apply best practices to ensure a hassle-free experience each time.
Avoid using other internet applications, devices, or streaming devices on the network during the session (e.g. avoid streaming music or movies, having multiple Web pages open at the same time, downloading large files or updating a computer.) Even other individuals on the same WiFi network using bandwidth may affect the video call.
Use a wired connection. Connect a wire directly to your router modem instead of using WiFi connection.
Ensure your cable for the wired connection is properly connected and not loose or damaged.
Disable the WiFi if you connected the wire from your computer to the router. On Mac OS, even if you connect wire, by default the WiFi is used for the connection.
Disable or remove unused WiFi. On Mac OS, if there are other existing connections setup on the computer, it will try to connect which will cause temporary disconnection from your current network which will affect your session.
Move your computer closer to your router if you must use a WiFi connection. Ideally, your router should be in the elevated position (not on the floor) and not blocked by walls or other devices, etc.
If these prevention tactics don’t work, you still have a few options. Most immediately, you can restart your router or restart your computer or remove any sources of interference.
Hardware requirements and best practices along with audio, video or troubleshooting tips can be posted on your practice’s website or shared via email or text prior to your sessions. Also, encourage testing the connection about 10 minutes before each session and informing clients of a back-up plan such as a phone call or chat in the off chance the technology falters.
Client engagement with telehealth technology
While telehealth technology is a convenient and safe way for providers to connect with patients, it also offers some other advantages such as the ability to boost engagement through features like screen sharing. Screen sharing gives access to clients on an as-needed level and allows clients to manipulate a game online, for example.
Not all video platforms offer this type of technology. TheraPlatform allows for this type of critical interactive therapy while other EHRs allow clients to only see what the therapist is sharing on the screen. This type of technology is especially helpful for speech therapy where clients can play games, do puzzles and follow verbal directions. Occupational therapists can use this therapy to work on visual tasks.
In-session white board options and in-session video play are other features used to engage clients, especially when it comes to therapeutic exercise. Utilizing an interactive whiteboard can be useful in mental health therapy, for example, in that it allows therapists and clients to work together in mapping out thought processes, connecting feelings to the thoughts that precede them, and identifying patterns.
Collecting feedback for continuous improvement
While initial patient buy-in and properly implementing technology can provide a smooth session, collecting feedback from the client is another layer in improving your sessions and outcomes. The Telehealth Usability Questionnaire assesses the telehealth technology experience including reliability specifically around error messages and the ability to recover quickly if a technical error occurs. It can be sent out via a survey or completed as a worksheet and can be used as a foundation for assessing telehealth services and iterating based on need. The TUQ assessment, or other similar assessments specific to telehealth can also provide ease of use, usefulness and satisfaction data around teletherapy.
Once considered a specialty service, telehealth technology is now integrated as a part of grad school curriculums, preferred by consumers and constantly updated as technology changes. TheraPlatform, a leader in telehealth technology, offers a secure, intuitive place to conduct teletherapy sessions with your clients. They also offer a 30-day risk-free trial with no credit card required. Give it a go today.