The Essential LCSW Checklist for Teletherapy
While teletherapy didn’t suddenly emerge on the healthcare scene, the COVID-19 pandemic put it at the forefront of the fight to address rising mental health needs. And while many felt prepared, such urgency left some health care providers scrambling to adjust to teletherapy requirements.
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In this article, we will discuss what teletherapy is and what is important to know when providing teletherapy to patients. We’ll discuss important steps to consider before offering this service and how to implement it into your practice.
What is Teletherapy?
Teletherapy offers treatment by a licensed and certified therapist through secure audio or video connection. Patients can interact with their therapists the same way they do during in-person sessions from any location they choose.
All telephone and online teletherapy sessions must follow state and local laws. These laws follow a specific set of HIPAA-compliant standards. To take part in teletherapy, users must have a secure internet connection, a private place to talk, and access to a phone, computer, or tablet.
When offering telehealth services, social workers must be sure they are practicing legally and ethically. This means following state licensure regulations and adhering to state and federal practice guidelines. Payer contract agreements have regulations to follow as well.
Before providing teletherapy health services, social workers should check:
- State licensing board of the social worker
- State licensing board where the client is
- Malpractice insurance/professional liability insurance carrier (e.g., ASI)
- Payor (private insurance / Medicaid / Medicare)
Read on to learn more detail about what social workers need to consider before offering telehealth services.
11 Things About Teletherapy LCSWs Need to Consider
While state and local regulations are essential, there are other factors to consider before offering teletherapy. Here are 11 factors to keep in mind as you plan to offer these services.
1. For Teletherapy, LCSW and Patient Location Matters
When you became licensed to practice, you had to meet specific requirements set by the state in which you live. But when you practice across state lines, the rules that apply are where your client resides. So, if you’re planning to offer service to clients in multiple states, you must get licensed in those areas as well.
2. Insurance Coverage Can Be Complicated
During the coronavirus pandemic, some telehealth provisions were relaxed for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. However, not all the changes were permanent. And some differ from that of private health insurance companies. So, it’s a good idea to read up on the teletherapy requirements of the insurance providers you accept.
3. Payment for Teletherapy Services Is Typically Less
Also, be aware that teletherapy is traditionally provided at a lower cost when compared to in-office visits. While the savings are beneficial to your clients, it’s essential to account for the difference in your bottom line.
4. HIPAA Guides Which Platform You Can Use for Virtual Sessions
When it comes to technology, the last thing that may be on your mind is HIPAA. Unfortunately, not all video session platforms comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. While some governing bodies made exceptions for using apps like FaceTime, those changes were only temporary. The good news is, there are a variety of HIPAA-compliant platforms. So, all you have to do is do a little research and select the right one for you.
5. Marketing for Teletherapy
With an abundance of benefits to teletherapy, you want to be sure you get the word out that you are offering the service. If you don’t already have a website for your practice or a content marketing strategy, there’s a place to start. There are many ways to market your new service, including ads and fan page posts through social media. You could also spread the word by emailing existing patients and others on your contact list.
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6. You’ll Only Pick Up Half of Your Patient’s Body Language
There’s more to a therapy session than talking alone. As humans, we use body language to communicate, even when we’re doing so subconsciously. With most virtual sessions, you’ll only be able to see your client from the shoulders up. Because of the impartial view of your client, you might miss essential cues about their mental or emotional state. While this isn’t an end-all-be-all, it is something to keep in mind as you get to know how your clients express themselves.
7. Teletherapy Isn’t for Everyone
Not everyone will succeed, find comfort, or enjoy a virtual therapeutic experience. And while in-office sessions are the obvious solution for those clients, lack of progress is not always easy to spot. Be on the lookout for individuals who opt for teletherapy as an attempt to escape deep conversations that may be more difficult to stomach face to face.
8. Establishing a Trusting Relationship Can Be More Difficult
Building rapport and a therapeutic connection can be challenging in any setting. Add in virtual distancing and establishing trust can feel downright impossible. However, it’s important to remember that building a relationship takes time. There are ways to avoid one-and-done sessions and awkward pauses.
Start by offering your clients reassurance that confidentiality is of utmost importance and solicit their feedback regularly.
9. Technical Difficulties
Anytime you’re working with computers, apps, or relying on an internet connection, you must expect the unexpected. While you can swiftly overcome minor glitches, you should have a response plan in the event tech issues interfere with a large part of your therapy session.
10. Accommodations and Accessibility
Much of the teletherapy movement is driven by the perceived access to mental health services when they’re needed the most. Yet, for some, we still must consider how accessibility can be a barrier to receiving these services in a virtual setting. While your clients may express desire in teletherapy, don’t assume all is good to go. Ask about their needs and offer accommodations when necessary and practical.
11. Don’t Forget About You
Of all things to consider for teletherapy, LCSW needs are vital. Yes—you and your needs. Do you want the flexibility telehealth inspires, or do you cringe at the thought of software updates? Do you crave face-to-face conversations, or are you the kind of person who can strike a connection with anyone anywhere? You can’t others if you aren’t helping yourself, so be sure to always keep your needs in mind.
Offering teletherapy to your patients is a great way to stay connected in an ever-growing virtual world. Before offering these services, be sure to keep these considerations in mind. At the end of the day, it’s about the lives you’re able to change. Offering a virtual platform can only make that number grow.
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