Experiences With Telehealth ~ Simple. Safe. Secure.
by Richard G. Wirtz, PsyD
On Monday March 23, 2020 the doors to CRBH closed to clients for the first time in its 23-year history (except weekends of course!). At 9 a.m. on that same day we kicked into telehealth in a full tilt fashion. Seven of our clinical staff were spread out around the county- some in the office, some in their homes- continuing to provide services to as many of their clients as they could in this new COVID-19 prompted era of mental health care.
With the need for social distancing fully in swing, the major insurance companies began authorizing telehealth services. Bigger yet for our rural region, the state relaxed it’s rules requiring telehealth be both video and audio as well as HIPAA compliant. For the COVID period, companies are authorizing and paying for HIPAA compliant video/audio platforms, alternative non-HIPAA platforms like FaceTime and Skype, as well as good old-fashioned telephone calls. These were all important changes/concessions in order to meet the needs of everyone seeking to initiate and maintain existing mental health care. They are now reimbursing for these services as if the client was being seen in the office. With this hurdle removed, the only others remaining were access to the needed technology and a willingness to try something different.
Since nearly everyone has a telephone there is really no impediment to seeking or engaging in care. But the idea of "meeting" with someone over the internet on a computer, tablet, or smartphone is, for some, a much bigger challenge.
As I am about to complete our third week of functioning in this manner, I want to share some observations. First, it is 100 times easier than most people thought, including myself. Open your email, click a link, wait for the therapist to push a button on the other end, and it's happening. Nearly every session starts with a smile and a shake of the head as we acknowledge that the world we live in has been changed by this pandemic. And then the conversation begins. I wouldn't be honest if I said that it is without glitches. There have been some. Some that were remediable and others not but the large majority of experiences have been more than just acceptable.
While major platforms like Zoom and Skype have received some criticism for certain aspects of their functioning, we are using a HIPAA compliant platform that has worked quite well. I am firmly convinced that these experiences will lead to even better technology that will aid us in the future.
While few of our providers or clients would choose to operate in this fashion, this incredible experience has opened possibilities for caring for and connecting to one another when we are sick or disabled or simply prevented from meeting face to face for any number of reasons that life dishes out.
Call us and check it out for yourself!