You’ve probably been hearing a lot lately about telehealth or telemental health. You might be a little put off by the idea of virtual service delivery. You might even be a little curious. So, what is all the buzz about?
Telehealth, in all its forms, is the hot topic in the provision of health and mental health care. It is quickly becoming an accepted mode of service delivery especially for clients who may be geographically isolated. The service has actually been around for many years. Backed by substantial research showing its efficacy, telehealth is now gaining ground in the mental health world as an alternative to face-to-face therapy. Telemental health is also becoming more accepted by insurance companies and third party payers.
Driven by technology and accessibility needs, telehealth, in all its many forms, is opening doors for people to access healthcare like never before. And for healthcare providers, it is providing an innovative and cost-effective way to reach clients previously inaccessible.
You might be thinking, “Sign me up!” Before you dive in head first, it’s important to understand exactly what it is. And what it’s not.
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth is actually one of over 40 terms used to describe the online delivery of health services. Depending on the discipline and the organization, telehealth may be referred to as telemental health, teletherapy, online therapy, video therapy, asynchronous or synchronous therapy, telemedicine or something else. In some ways, these terms differ. Sometimes they are used interchangeably.
The fact is, there is no one, clear, universally recognized term used by all disciplines, licensing boards or organizations.
In general, telehealth is broadly defined as the use of electronic communications to provide long-distance clinical health care and health-related education. It can also be used for non-clinical purposes such as public health and health administration activities.1 Telemedicine most often refers to the specific delivery remote clinical services.2 In the case of providing mental health services, it is most often referred to as telemental health.
Essentially, when you provide telemental health services, you are conducting a therapy session with a client who is not in your office but rather engaged with you in some form of electronic interface. The specific type of interaction will vary but possible forms include live video, audio (phone), secure messaging, secure email or live chat. Interactions may be live synchronous (live) or asynchronous. A lot will depend on the client’s needs, access to technology and client preferences.
You might be thinking live video means Skype or FaceTime. While these are awesome tools, they are not appropriate for the provision of telemental health. Just as in in-person therapy, you are required to maintain a client’s privacy and confidentiality. You must guard their Protected Health Information (PHI) as required by HIPAA. Skype and FaceTime do not meet the requirements for HIPAA security. The same is true for regular email and text messaging.
As a telemental health provider, you must choose technology that is HIPAA-secure and reasonably protects your client’s PHI.
How do you do that? You choose a video conferencing platform specifically designed for the provision of telemental health such as TheraPlatform: https://www.theraplatform.com/resources/280/hipaa-compliant-video-conferencing-platform-for-behavioral-and-mental-health-providers .
TheraPlatform is a robust, full-featured, HIPAA-secure video conferencing platform designed for therapists. Choosing a HIPAA-secure platform gives you the confidence that you are doing all you can to as a therapist to provide the best level of security you can for your clients.
Know The Rules
Just as in the brick-and-mortar setting, you as a therapist have rules to follow. Provision of virtual services is no exception. Many of the same rules apply such as maintaining privacy and confidentiality, safety and duty to warn or informed consent. What may be different are the ways in which you address these issues. Online therapy presents different challenges than might be present in in-person counseling. For example, how will you get your informed consent signed with an online client? How will you handle an in-session crisis?
In some states, the rules for the provision of telemental health may differ somewhat from in-person therapy. As a licensed practitioner, it is imperative that before you embark on your telemental health practice, you ensure that you understand your licensing board’s requirements and that you can demonstrate compliance.
All of this talk of secure technology and compliance might have you second-guessing the idea of telemental health. Don’t let it intimidate you! Remember the old saying, “Knowledge is power.”
When you were first starting out, even the idea of actually doing a session with a client was scary. The more you learned about your craft, the more competent you became. The same is true for telemental health. It is simply a new modality for providing the awesome services that you already offer clients. The more you learn about it and prepare yourself for that step, the more confident you will become and the more you will be able to reach clients who may have previously been unable to access care.
If you have questions or need more information, reach out to colleagues who are practicing telemental health. Take continuing education courses on the topic. Telemental health is here and you can be a part of the future of therapy.
1. Telemedicine and Telehealth | HealthIT.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved from
2. What is telehealth? How is telehealth different from telemedicine? | HealthIT.gov.(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.healthit.gov/faq/what-telehealth-how-telehealth-different-telemedicine