Once rare, online therapy is now commonplace. For many patients, the ease of meeting virtually has broadened accessibility and the willingness to meet more regularly. Similarly, many mental health professionals have found the recent surge of virtual appointments as a general benefit for both their patients and their own work. However, there is an underlying thread of challenges that most mental health professionals may not even realize exist.
There are many free programs available for virtual appointments. However, unbeknownst to its users, that particular program may not even be HIPAA-compliant. If the professional is audited or reported, their license could be suspended while investigation occurs, or a license could even be revoked for a HIPAA violation, even if unintended. Although there are free programs that comply with HIPAA, the mental health professional should also research and possibly invest in official licensed programs for mental health professionals. The patient will also have confidence that their appointments are safely occurring and that any sensitive information could not be recorded or stolen from them.
The mere nature of a virtual appointment can also be less than confidential. For some patients, they may not have regular access to a dedicated space in which to have the private appointment. This certainly prevents the patient from having basic privacy while engaging in private discussions, but they may not have another choice. There is also the possibility that the mental health professional may not have a dedicated home office due to lack of space, which can affect both patient confidentiality and invalidate the professional. The general informality of this setup can prevent the appointment from being useful to the patient and can be invalidating to the professional, who likely has a dedicated office space for in person meetings.
The cost of the appointment is another challenge. Virtual appointments are often lower cost, which can affect income, especially if all appointments are virtual. It can also feel invalidating to spend the same amount of time with a patient but get paid less for the same work. Although lower cost benefits the patient, some health insurances do not cover virtual appointments, and so the patient must pay out of pocket for a service that would normally be covered.
There is also the mere fact that for many patients, meeting virtually simply does not have the same effect as meeting in person. Some patients need face to face interaction with their mental health professional in order to make progress or ease mental health difficulties, and if virtual appointments are the norm, then it can gravely affect the work the mental health professional can do with their patient. Mental health professionals should be more conscientious of these changes and how they might affect the patient, and work within their capacity to adjust better care for their patient.
Williams & Nickl has represented many mental health professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists, who face issues with IDFPR. If you find yourself in such a situation, Williams & Nickl can provide the help you need.