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How Might Licensed Professionals Think about Google’s “Helpouts?”

Google's Helpouts

Google’s Helpouts is an innovation worthy of consideration by licensed professionals when best practices are taken into account. Those practices may require responsible professionals to exclude offering service-by-the-minute, depending on the services they are qualified to offer and populations they serve.

The Details

Google’s new service appears to offer high-definition video connectivity, HIPAA compliance and a ready bank of consumers who need professional care from a number of U.S. states. (For a more detailed description of Helpots and what it offers, see Google Steps into Mental Health with “Helpouts.”)  It’s role is basically the same as that of any telephone company, that is, connecting parties. The parties being connected in Google’s new service are health care professionals and consumers. Helpouts, of course, offers a whole lot more than an audio service. 

What’s Missing?

As can be expected from Google, Helpouts delivers their technical services quite well. The system is easy-to-use, visually appealing and affordable for both the professional and consumers. Both parties can expect reliability, good audio and good video capacity, even in rural or frontier areas. In many ways, Helpouts is a serious threat to many video platform companies that have been evolving within telehealth.

As is evident at the time of the writing of this article, Helpouts offers service both through a large medical group and from individual practitioners.  Therein lies an often unaddressed problem. While larger groups have already approached their healthcare services with teams of attorneys and managers who structure their services according to legal and ethical mandates, independent practitioners who sell services online do not enjoy those same structures or the safeguards they provide.

When working as part of a group, professionals are trained and required to comply with all necessary standards. Independent practitioners are not,m and often have not had the benefit of legal counsel to help them minimize risk; access information about the consumer whenever needed through a medical office’s database; have referral systems built into local communities to help handle emergencies, or be credentialed ahead of time to make sure they will be reimbursed for their time and efforts. 

Independent practitioners offering their services through any type of technology in the absence of an in-person assessment or other skills and tools that compensate for the differences between in-person and video-based care. In short, they may not have adequate data about their consumers to offer professional services. Their video-based assessment might be adequate the majority of the time, but in some of the more complex cases, they might not be able to gather as much crucial information about a client/patient than if they were conducting an in-person assessment.

Online clinicians may or may not have had the exposure to the evidence-base or training to understand the palpable differences between offering services as part of a group and offering them independently online, connecting to unknown, undocumented consumers without standard processes afforded by intake, informed consent, documentation requirements, emergency backup, etc. They may not know how technically sophisticated their clients are, or are not.

On the other hand, technology and free enterprise wait for no one. Many companies are beginning to see problems they can remediate in health care. Their response is predictable:  they assess, innovate and implement solutions.  How licensed professionals adapt to the challenges offered by the advanced technologies such a Google’s Helpouts is a professional issue and not a technical one.

For more information, see:

Google Steps into Mental Health with “Helpouts

Why Online Practice Can be Dangerous – Part I

Your comments are invited below.

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2 comments on “How Might Licensed Professionals Think about Google’s “Helpouts?”

  1. Very good article here. Please keep them coming. I have enjoyed the online webinars I’ve taken from your site so far. Are there any plans for offering content that will be more applicable to Canada (although the content you do provide certainly provides a very good foundation to start from)?

    • Samantha,

      We have lots of trainees from Canada, but have not as yet developed coursework for anywhere outside of the US. We have trainees from Italy, Romania, Isreal and Russia working with us to develop materials for their countries. Write to me privately if you want to work on such a project for Canada.

      Meanwhile, I’m glad you see the relevance of our webinars and work for you in the bigger picture. We actually now have trainees from 36 coutries training with us. They come for the theory and application rather than for specific legal direction — although what is being done in the US is certainly relevant everywhere. The truth is, the US in not the leader in telemental health. We are surpassed by over a dozen countries.

      Our international appeal helps everyone see applications and benefits in a larger context, which is why we are so delighted to be at the center of such a strong movement in behavioral healthcare online, with appeal to the world at large.

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