Articles
March 18, 2020

Offering telepsych for the first time? 12 tips to help it go smoothly

Dr. Russell DuBois, PhD

I am a psychologist specializing in the areas of eating disorders, mindfulness, and data science for personalized medicine. I write for Psychology Today under the column The Digital Doctor.

As the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic reaches its height, we at Blueprint wanted to share what some of our partners are doing to put patient care at the forefront. We have heard from several of our partners that face-to-face visits are becoming more difficult and/or being paused temporarily, so we wanted to reach out and offer support during what may be a challenging and chaotic transition.

We’re big fans of telehealth and using technology to enhance care. Delivering care via phone or video calls is a great way to improve patient access, especially during times of public health crises when certain patients may be homebound. However, transitioning to virtual visits is easier said than done.

Here are some helpful tips as you make the transition:

Phase 1: How do I start?

1. Check your malpractice insurance policy.

Are there any policies that could prevent you from establishing a telepsych set up? Check for policy clauses on confidentiality and work-from-home considerations. There may be additional risks associated with having health records available at a home office.

2. Make sure you’re using a HIPAA compliant platform to deliver telehealth.

There are tons of options out there. To name a couple: Vsee.com (free), Zoom (small monthly fee for HIPAA compliant version), and your EHR may have an option as well.

HHS just released messaging that enables providers to use any non-public platform to communicate with patients.

3. Find a quiet place to take appointments.

Pets are family, but nothing is worse than a barking dog interrupting a call. Find a room, with a door if you can, that you can make into some type of office. Make it your work space and try to make it a “work only” area with a professional background.

4. Ensure a strong internet connection.

Test your connection by going to fast.com and consider upgrading to faster speeds during the crisis. If you’re dealing with slow or choppy connections and are using Zoom, try dialing in with your phone for your audio connection while using your computer for video.

Phase 2: Ready for my first call

5. Create a patient communication plan.

Determine how you will be staying in contact with patients and their families. Any changes to your usual office hours or lines of communication should be clearly posted on your website, in your waiting room, and/or emailed to all relevant parties.

6. Teach your clients what telehealth is

You are now prepared to have a call! Is your client? Do they need to download an app to their phone/computer? Do they know they should be in a quiet place and likely away from other people? An email to your entire case load with details about how their appointments will work can only help.

7. Consider purchasing a headset.

This can drastically help improve the sound quality of your newly virtual appointments (...and makes you look like a teletherapy pro...). It also assists in keeping your conversations with your patients private.

8. Maintain your professional standards of care.

Telehealth requires you to meet the same ethical and professional standards as face-to-face treatment. Sometimes this may mean not using telehealth services for vulnerable or high-risk patient populations. Lean into your clinical judgement, and consult when necessary, when determining if telehelath may be appropriate for your caseload.

Phase 3: Got the hang of it, now let’s make it better

9. Build a referral protocol.

Identify how you will screen for telehealth patients who may need more intensive services, and have a list of available referral sources ready. Err on the side of being over-prepared when it comes to patient safety.

10. Stay updated on telehealth reimbursement guidelines.

The telehealth reimbursement infrastructure is changing daily. Stay up to date on how and when your insurance companies are reimbursing for telehealth. State organization listservs are a great place to seek up to date information on insurance coverage.

11. Prioritize self-care.

Telehealth can unlock access to patients at all times of the day or night. Know your boundaries and remember that you can only provide quality care when you take care of yourself first.

12. Consider a remote symptom tracking platform.

Platforms like Blueprint can remotely administer, score, and document symptom rating scales and related assessments for tracking symptom severity and progress. This can help provide valuable context about a patient’s symptoms in a 100% virtual world and also ensure telehealth patients remain connected to their care plan between appointments. Even more, it’s also considered a standalone reimbursable service each time an assessment is completed, which can help buffer against any potential revenue changes during a transition out of office.

From all of us at Blueprint, we wish you the best of luck throughout your transition!