Within a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic transformed nearly every therapy practice into a telehealth provider. Therapists were forced to quickly adapt to this new way of seeing clients. The learning curve was steep and the change happened at a rapid pace. But as the dust settled and clients and providers got used to the new normal, some began to genuinely enjoy this new way of providing and receiving care.
As the country continues to reopen, more therapists are moving back to the traditional, face-to-face format. But others who like the remote format are thinking about the possibility of continuing with teletherapy. In this post, we’ll cover the basics of starting a teletherapy practice, including the benefits and drawbacks, choosing the right telehealth software, and how to get the word out to prospective clients looking for teletherapy. Whether you’re considering going full-time with teletherapy or simply expanding the services you offer, you’ll learn what you need to know to get up and running.
Teletherapy offers a strong mix of benefits for both the therapist and the client. By removing the requirement to be in the same space at the same time, new possibilities are opened up. Here are six big benefits of teletherapy.
There’s a lot to be said for being able to work remotely from your office or home. If you choose to work from home, you won’t be battling traffic on the highways each morning and evening. A morning commute that consists of a short walk from your kitchen table up the stairs to your home office is a nice incentive! Working remotely also makes it easier to schedule your client load around personal obligations like childcare or eldercare responsibilities. Not having to fetch clients from the waiting room and show them out after each session saves time too — time you can spend writing up your progress notes.
Offering telehealth services is a way to expand your reach beyond your current client base. Many people in need of therapy aren’t able to access care due to being located in a rural setting.
Teletherapy also provides an avenue to pick up additional clients by offering extended hours on evenings and weekends. This is a great way for therapists looking to open their own practice to build up a client base on the side before making the leap into full-time work on their own. It’s also beneficial if you need greater flexibility in scheduling.
Since it’s possible to access teletherapy services anywhere there’s an internet connection, this form of therapy can drastically reduce your number of no-shows. Unexpected obligations with work or family that usually cause last-minute cancelations aren’t as problematic with telehealth sessions since clients can call in from their car or kitchen table. In areas that experience severe winter weather, teletherapy provides access to clients regardless of road conditions.
If you choose to work from home, running a teletherapy practice eliminates one of the largest expenses involved in operating a business — office rent and maintenance. If you see clients from home in a dedicated space that’s used only for that purpose, you may even be able to claim a small tax deduction. Even if you chose to maintain a physical presence just to have a place to work outside of the home, your office space may not need to be as large or in as convenient of a location as those operating in-person practices.
Many people aren’t able to access care in person for a variety of reasons. For clients with fears around leaving the house, going to see a therapist each week can feel overwhelming, especially at first. Others may have physical disabilities that make going out difficult. For these people, teletherapy can be a lifeline to accessing care that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
While there’s lots to love about offering teletherapy, there are some potential drawbacks as well. None of these are deal-breakers, but they require some work to make sure you’ve properly addressed them.
Licensing Issues — In most cases, therapists are only allowed to see clients in states that they’re licensed for. Make sure you’re providing care only in jurisdictions for which you hold a license to practice.
State Laws — Because teletherapy is a relatively new field, state laws regarding offering therapy remotely are constantly evolving. AAMFT has a dedicated section on its website that provides updates to state laws pertaining to providing telehealth services. Consult the laws in your state regularly to make sure you stay up-to-date.
Malpractice Insurance Coverage Issues — Check with your carrier to ensure your malpractice insurance coverage extends to clients you’re meeting with remotely.
Personality and Work-Style Compatibility — Working remotely isn’t for everyone. For some therapists, there’s just no replacement for going into the office and seeing their clients face-to-face.
Potential for Reduced Reimbursements — During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, most insurance carriers lifted restrictions on telehealth services and agreed to reimburse at the same rates as in-person visits. As the pandemic subsides, it’s possible that payers will revert back to the more restrictive, pre-pandemic rules.
If you’ll be seeing a significant percentage of your clients via teletherapy, choosing the right EHR software is important. You don’t want to experience technical issues in the middle of a session or be exposed to security risks. Here are three must-haves to look for when choosing a telehealth software platform.
It’s absolutely essential that the software you choose has high-quality video capabilities. Make sure it’s easy for the client to expand to full screen to increase the viewing area.
Your telehealth software should also provide a secure, HIPAA compliant video connection to make sure your sessions remain confidential.
Ease of Use
Not all telehealth platforms are easy for you and your clients to use. Make sure your platform of choice is simple to navigate, especially on the client-side. You’ll be seeing people with a broad range of comfort levels with technology, so you want the system you choose is as user-friendly as possible.
While internet stability isn’t part of a telehealth software platform, it’s important to mention here. To avoid interrupted sessions, you’ll want to purchase the highest-speed internet service available in your area.
When you’re ready to officially hang your shingle as a teletherapy provider, you’ll want to spread the word as broadly as you can. Here are four proven ways to generate awareness for a new teletherapy practice.
Update Online Local Business Listings — Update your Google My Business account to show that you’re now offering telehealth services. If you have other active local business listings online, add a reference to telehealth services to them also.
Update Website — Update your website to prominently feature your new telehealth offerings. If teletherapy is going to be a main focus, update your site’s meta description so “teletherapy” appears in the text under your website link.
Use Google Adwords to Target Other Geographic Areas — If you’re located in a suburb but want to target larger metropolitan areas in your state, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to rank in the organic search results. Google Adwords is an easy and relatively affordable way to get in front of prospective clients who are searching Google for teletherapy.
Network — If you’re part of one or more professional networking groups, let colleagues know you’re now offering telehealth services. Those who offer in-person sessions only can be an especially good source of referrals.
With the benefits of teletherapy in mind, a plan to address potential pitfalls, and a strong software platform to support you, you can have confidence in your plan to start a teletherapy practice.