Best Practices in Telepsychology

Every industry has felt the impact of innovative technology. That includes psychology, which now has a facet known as “telepsychology” that involves the use of mobile devices, videoconferencing, email, chat and text to deliver psychology services to patients.

The range of communication devices has pushed some psychologists into offering more telepsychology services – sometimes exclusively telepsychology services. Dr. Keren Chansky Suberri told the American Psychology Association (APA) that when she moved her practice from New Jersey to Philadelphia in 2015, she decided to switch to only using video teleconferencing.

She did this especially for the parents of special needs children who had difficulty making the trip to an in-person therapy session. She also said it works well for those with agoraphobia because for them, “just going out of the house and into a doctor’s setting is like climbing the Himalayas.”

Younger patients also are comfortable with telepsychology because they are used to communicating via devices, she said. Nicole Issa, Psy.D, told Self magazine that the lack of a commute to an appointment can relax patients and allow them to focus on the session.

However, there are issues that therapists need to understand. The following are some of the best practices in telepsychology.

Technical Competence

Understanding technology is key. It requires more than just taking one course on securing digital transmissions (security being key to the success of telepsychology). Psychologists need to understand that technology constantly evolves and that it requires ongoing education to stay on top of the latest methods of communication and ways to secure them.

Maintain Ethical and Professional Standards

Psychologists must ensure from the start that they meet all the ethical and professional standards for delivering services through videoconferencing and other communication methods. According to the APA, these guidelines need to be established from the outset of working with a patient.

Informed Consent

Getting and documenting informed consent from patients is key. This should include issues related specifically to any concerns around telepsychology. Documented consent also needs to include provisions from any laws and regulations in their state that address telepsychology, as well as rules from organizations.

Confidentiality & Data Security

Confidentiality is of paramount importance. Psychologists need to have technology professionals ensure that the system they plan to use is HIPAA-compliant. That means it meets the same standards as those that govern the security of healthcare records. Clients must also be informed of the possibility of any breach of information.

Testing Considerations

Many of the tests that psychologists give are specifically designed to be done in person. With telepsychology, there can be issues. For example, there might be someone in the room aiding clients with answers that the therapist cannot see. Because of this – and to provide technical support to clients – it’s sometimes helpful to have a “telepresenter,” according to the APA.

Cross-Jurisdictional Practices

Telepsychology allows the possibility of providing psychology services to someone in another state or even on the other side of the world. That also introduces potential legal issues. Because state and federal laws tend to differ in different locations, psychologists are wise to know all the laws that impact providing service in the jurisdiction both where they are and where the patient is located.

Establishing Boundaries

Psychologists must also work to establish a setting that creates an accepting and inclusive atmosphere. Changing the backdrop, allowing too much noise in the background and other disturbances could “foster boundary-related challenges,” according to a study by East Carolina University researchers. Psychologists must also establish boundaries on how a patient can communicate with them and how quickly they are expected to respond (via texting, for example, or email).

These are some of the best practices associated with telepsychology. They can help govern how psychologists work with patients through communication technology – an area of the profession that is only likely to grow in the coming years.

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