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Behavioral Telehealth? Not an Easy Transition for Patients or Providers!

By October 21, 2020 October 28th, 2020 No Comments

With the COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine protocols of 2020, telehealth therapy has emerged to the forefront as a viable treatment option that allows for social distancing and remote care. However, as a behavioral health provider at New Growth Counseling in New Mexico, I have found the majority of my clients remain more comfortable with in-office sessions regardless of the beneficial factors associated with telehealth.
Many factors need to be considered when changing the methodology of behavioral health counseling with clients from face-to-face to telehealth. This method of delivery can be a useful tool, however, some therapists are unsure about the effectiveness of telehealth therapy.
To start, social distancing can be difficult for those individuals who have problems acclimating to different situations. In some cases, providers, like their patients, are no different! Many therapists have been trained with a model of face-to-face sessions while taking notes with pen and paper. The shift to delivering services in a telehealth environment requires training for providers, so the client gets the maximum value from the encounter.

Is Telehealth the Future of Healthcare?

Listed below are some of the benefits and findings surrounding telehealth that help make the argument to support and embrace telehealth.

  • Some studies have concluded that telehealth services may be preferable to in-person care for many circumstances, including mental health.
  • Individuals in remote areas can have access to more services they may not otherwise be able to receive.
  • A 2017 review of the current literature on the topic supports online counseling as an effective solution that included client satisfaction.
  • Telehealth services allow clients to seek therapy from their own homes, allowing for more flexibility and greater opportunity to schedule appointments.
  • Telehealth services may remove the stigma of seeking treatment with a therapist in person.
  • A telehealth appointment can remove the discomfort of sitting in a waiting room with others, while allowing for privacy and comfort that may not be reached in an office space.
  • Insurance providers have approved many healthcare services.

With so many positive factors surrounding the idea of telehealth, I still wonder why the majority of clients in my practice chose to come into the office with a mask as opposed to sitting in the comfort of their home or office. I found it interesting that when given a choice, my clients often declined telehealth.

Telehealth Has its Limitations (especially in behavioral health)

After reviewing some of my recent telehealth sessions, I listed some of my experiences when providing services through telehealth that may have led to my clients’ choice of receiving in-office care.

  • Poor internet services created obstacles to completing ideas, thoughts, and at times, a full session. Not all clients, for multiple reasons, had strong enough service.
  • Some clients with a partner in the house found it difficult to openly discuss their home life and/or partners.
  • Children have interrupted many sessions, distracting the client.
  • Some clients were concerned with the security methods in place and with HIPAA violations even though our telehealth service is secure and HIPAA-approved.

Telehealth or in-office, who decides? There are many benefits to telehealth, but in a consumer-facing market, it’s always the client who decides where they get the most value. To the degree that it’s possible, I believe offering clients a choice in how they receive their behavioral care is the best option.

Denise Barner, MA, LPCC

Author Denise Barner, MA, LPCC

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