Let’s be honest… five years ago, telepractice was jeered by most mental health professionals. That was prior to the advent of our daily lives being managed by “apps” on smartphones and tablet PCs, and when cloud computing conjured images of a storm in our computers. With telepractice guidelines being issued by the American Telemedicine Association last week, similar guidelines to come from the American Psychological Association in the fall, and new standards from the American Counseling Association are under development. In essence, these guidelines give practitioners from coast to coast are being given the green light to explore the many new income-generating models for telepractice now available online.
Why not now? Many successful practice models have developed a rich evidence base after more than 60 years of empirical support for reducing costs, increasing access and in many cases when delivered according to best practice protocols, comparable efficacy to in-person care. By closing one’s brick-and-mortar offices by just 1 day per week, the average practitioner can slash office overhead costs, stay home and still do the work they love to do.
Developing strategic contracts with facilities needing mental health services can lead to the best of all mental health worlds: a varied yet comfortable clinical day with a home-based practice, no worries about recruiting clients/patients, no worries about handling emergencies and for a slightly added fee, no billing headaches.
Such groups can include correctional facilities, EAP groups, skilled nursing facility (SNF) or critical access hospitals (CAH) that have established telehealth units. These established groups alleviate worries about risk management and often provide a built-in referral network for building a caseload. Of course, the “migration model” as we teach at the TeleMental Health Institute amoung all these other options, is also a viable choice. it involves slowly migrating an in-person practice to the online arena. Best practices are key in all these models.
Whichever model one prefers, the potential benefits and opportunities associated with a telemental health career can balance out some of the difficulties associated with private practice. It’s a promising niche for career development.
Nevertheless, as with any career option, mental health professionals need to be cognizant about the need and expectation that they are competent to deliver the care they profess to have mastered. Technology brings the potential for many problems that can easily be avoided with a comprehensive plan of study that averages from 40-65 hours. Additionally, research in the area of telemental health is on the rise and will surely inform telemental health practice. Telemental health practice has the potential to be the most rapid growing area of research and practice development in the decades to come. For mental health professionals who invest in the developing telemental health competencies, the time is ripe for establishing a thriving telemental health practice.