As demand for mental health services continues to rise, many hospitals and healthcare practices are turning to telemental health as a way to provide care for more patients. A continuing interest in convenient care options, accessibility, stigma reduction, and the rise of technological advancements have made telemental health a viable option for patients and practices alike.
Telehealth therapists who run their practices as they do, reduce office expenses, serve a larger geographic area, and offer more flexible appointment times.
Clients seeking out telemental health services often appreciate the ability to receive care from the comfort of their own homes, pay less for care, avoid transportation and overcome societal stigma barriers regarding mental health.
In isolated and rural areas, telemental health can provide access to care that would otherwise be unavailable.
If you’re a mental health professional looking to launch a successful online therapy practice, there are a few essential things to remember.
Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get started:
1. Research the Licensure Requirements in Your State
To ensure that you’re providing telemental health services legally and ethically, it’s important to be aware of the laws, regulations, and ethical considerations in which state you practice and where your client resides.
Each state has different licensure requirements for mental health professionals who want to provide telemental health services. A licensing board has jurisdiction over clients who reside within the boundaries of their state. If you practice in Florida but your client resides in Alabama, both Florida and Alabama licensing issues may affect you.
In some states, therapists and medical doctors can practice across state lines, while in others, they cannot. Moreover, professional norms and rules vary across state lines.
If you are unsure whether or not your state allows telemental health services, obtain legal advice from an attorney specializing in mental health licensing and regulation in your state.
2. Familiarize Yourself with the Requirements for HIPAA Compliance
To provide telemental health services, you must be HIPAA compliant. This means that you must take steps to ensure the privacy and security of your client’s PHI.
While HIPAA may seem complicated, it serves a fundamental purpose. The disclosure of protected mental health information can put your clients’ well-being at risk.
Some people may even be in danger of losing their lives as a result. Consider how an abusive partner could use PHI to track down and hurt their partner or how criminals could use it to exploit and victimize people.
There are several ways in which virtual mental health services can violate HIPAA.
- Unencrypted channels give third parties access to your notes, emails, and any communication.
- In addition, if you select the wrong chat service, others may have access to your entire session.
- The therapy setting won’t be under your control.
You might use unsecured wireless connections in public places like coffee shops or libraries, or your client may meet with you from their workplace. As a result, people nearby may be able to overhear your conversation.
In order to prevent such tragedies from occurring, it’s essential to take the necessary steps to ensure that your telemental health practice is HIPAA compliant.
You can avoid these HIPAA issues by implementing the following strategies:
- Ensure you only send emails, treatment notes, and other messages through a secure platform.
- Use only encrypted, secure telehealth software, and read the terms and conditions.
- Make sure clients are aware of the privacy issues that they can control. Develop a signal that indicates that their abuser is watching or listening. Avoid having clients seek care in public places.
3. Identify Your Specialty and Clientele
Before you can start marketing your telemental health practice, you need to clearly understand whom you want to serve and what services you will offer. This can help distinguish yourself and ensure your patients receive exceptional care.
- Do you want to work with a specific population, such as veterans or people dealing with PTSD?
- Do you want to specialize in a particular type of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)?
- Do you want to focus on substance abuse? Depression? Anxiety disorders?
Your answers to these questions will help you determine what type of telemental health practice you want to create. For some providers, telemental health can complement in-person care. Others may want to focus on specialty services, work with clients who live in rural areas or have difficulty accessing traditional therapy.
It’s vital to ensure you have adequate training and experience in the areas you plan to treat. If you plan on treating a population you’re unfamiliar with, consider taking additional courses or getting supervision from a more experienced and licensed therapist.
4. Choose Your Telemental Health Platform
As a telehealth therapist, you’ll need to choose a platform that will allow you to deliver online mental health services remotely while remaining HIPAA compliant and offering the features you need.
To determine which platform is best for you, consider the following:
Telehealth software requirements differ greatly between specialties. The needs of a mental health care specialist will differ from those of a gastroenterologist. The best telehealth platform for your practice is the one that is designed to support your medical specialty.
You should choose a platform that most readily meets your practice’s specific requirements. When your organization has more than one specialization, select a versatile, comprehensive platform that can be configured according to your needs.
HIPAA compliance and PHI data are some of the most sensitive security concerns for videoconferencing applications. You must ensure that the platform you choose is HIPAA-compliant and meets your state’s regulatory requirements.
As part of HIPAA compliance, organizations must follow the Security Rule, which states:
- Access to ePHI should be restricted to authorized users.
- To protect the integrity of ePHI, secure communication should be implemented.
- A system of monitoring communications containing ePHI should be implemented to prevent accidental or malicious breaches.
With the best telemedicine software, you can ensure that your data, including ePHI, is protected with solid encryption exceeding the 128-bit HIPAA standard. When choosing an online therapy platform, ensure your telehealth software offers the highest level of security features.
Telemedicine software should provide an easy experience for patients and clinicians alike. Both parties should be able to communicate easily without worrying about technical glitches.
Your telehealth platform must offer all the necessary remote communication features (e.g., audio/visual) needed by both patient and clinician. It should include tools such as
- Video Conferencing
- Clinical Chat Modality
- Virtual Waiting Room
Managing multiple digital tabs and applications to access vital information can cause routine process delays. The lack of integration can result in redundant work and room for human error.
A good telehealth solution should give you access to all of your data from one place. Your telehealth platform should have the capability to integrate with your EMR or practice management software.
Furthermore, it should integrate well with other third-party systems to simplify scheduling, accounting, and operations management.
If you choose telehealth software with excellent customer service, you will have peace of mind when your network fails.
Even if there are no technical issues with the system, you will need assistance implementing the software and training new staff members. In case your patients encounter any technical difficulties, they should have access to technical support.
Ensure that the platform offers 24/7 support via phone, email, or chat so that you have access to someone at all times.
There is a wide range of offerings in the field of telemedicine due to the number of providers involved and the varying levels of technology available. Some solutions are free, while others cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The simple telehealth solutions offer video consultations at a nominal fee but do not have advanced features.
On the other hand, platforms that large healthcare organizations use will typically come with advanced telehealth features like integrated billing, scheduling, clinical workflow automation, remote diagnostics, and triage.
Your telehealth program should be covered by malpractice insurance. This way, you would still be compensated if anything goes wrong during the appointments. Most insurance covers online therapy services as long as they are performed in accordance with professional standards.
Check with your malpractice insurance company for any telehealth coverage policies before providing online therapist services via telehealth modalities. Ensure that the policy provides adequate protection against liability claims arising from medical errors or negligence.
State laws vary considerably on malpractice issues, so ensure you understand how your state defines malpractice before proceeding. Also, consider whether your state imposes additional requirements regarding licensing or certification practices that may apply.
If this area does not fall under your insurance coverage, then you need to explore other sources of reimbursement to keep your business going. If you are unsure whether insurance covers telehealth services, you should consult your legal counsel before offering an online therapy service.
6. Practice Considerations
There are many considerations when launching a new telehealth therapy practice, including:
- Determine the technological needs of the practice. You need a platform with robust video capabilities to provide live conferencing sessions. However, a more straightforward secured platform might suffice if you only want to communicate through audio-only calls.
- Understand any potential barriers with your patient demographics. Communication, language, cultural concerns, or technological limitations prevent patients from engaging in virtual visits.
- Know which interventions can be practical and safe to perform over telehealth.
- Create a business plan for telehealth, including revenue, budgeting, expenses, and savings.
- Ensure that policies and procedures are prepared before you begin.
- Revise your policies on consent, PHI, HIPAA compliance, and other regulatory requirements in case something goes wrong.
- Maintain a record of patient outcomes.
- Take telehealth patient satisfaction surveys to collect feedback about their experiences.
7. Policies and Procedures
Make sure to develop appropriate policies and procedures before starting your telehealth practice. These documents outline what conditions are not appropriate for treatment via telehealth.
Some states and payers don’t allow the provision of telehealth services to patients with certain conditions. It’s vital that you know about any restrictions from your state or insurer before starting your practice.
Here are some general guidelines for policies and procedures:
- Licensure. Before you begin treatment, verify that your license covers the patient’s state of residence.
- Relationship. Check state laws before providing telehealth since some states require you to have a relationship with a patient before delivering it.
- Evaluation and treatment. Telehealth follows the same standard of care as in-person therapy.
- Informed consent. Getting consent from your patient is more than just getting their signature. It ensures compliance with all rules and regulations, as well as the patient’s comfort level and understanding of telehealth treatment.
8. Marketing Considerations
Marketing is an essential part of building a successful business. Developing a marketing plan is necessary before implementing telehealth.
Here are some marketing tips for telehealth therapists:
- Decide which conditions are appropriate for telehealth, which you may prefer to treat in person, and which you wish to combine.
- Include telehealth conditions in your marketing materials.
- Determine the type of media to use for advertising and ensure compliance with your state practice act, state law, ethical guidelines, and federal laws.
- Create a marketing budget, including projections of return on investment.
- Let your existing patients know that you offer telehealth services. When appropriate, suggest telehealth during in-person visits.
When creating marketing materials, keep these points in mind:
- Get clear on your brand identity. Develop a logo, color scheme, and tagline that will represent your practice. Choose colors that match those used in your office space.
- Establish a website and social media profiles where you share information about your clinic, staff, treatments offered, and the qualifications of your providers.
- Explain the clinical value and convenience of telehealth.
- Provide patients with a detailed explanation of the treatment process, from the first consultation to follow-up appointments.
- Provide answers to patients’ common questions about telehealth.
- Inform patients about what telehealth technology they will need.
- Provide details about your availability for telehealth visits.
- Lastly, monitor the activity of your clients and adapt your marketing strategies accordingly.
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