Is a telehealth appointment for behavioral health concerns a good option during the coronavirus pandemic?
The coronavirus pandemic has changed much of our daily lives. For parents, this means dramatic changes to the school, daycare, and home routines. There have also been some major shifts in healthcare delivery. Although some healthcare services are still occurring in-person, many providers have opted to make use of available technology and conduct visits remotely via telehealth. If you have been thinking about reaching out to a psychologist for guidance regarding your child’s sleep or other behavioral health concerns (such as excessive worry or anxiety, problematic tantrum behavior, difficulty with task completion or following directions, and other issues), please know that effective evidence-based treatments are still accessible. These treatments are available even in this time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. In case you are interested in seeing a provider who now uses telehealth, here are answers to some common questions.
What exactly is Telehealth?
Telehealth may be getting a lot of attention now, but it has actually been around for many years. A provider who uses telehealth may communicate using a variety of technology, such as email, phone, and messaging, although videoconferencing is by far the most common. Insurance, if you are using insurance, may also dictate the type of technology covered (that is, videoconferencing vs. phone). You are probably familiar with programs like Skype, Facetime, or WhatsApp to chat with friends and family. Your therapist will use a similar videoconference platform, some that are designed specifically for telehealth such as Doxy or even Zoom for Healthcare.
Will the treatment still be effective even if our family is not sitting face-to-face with the therapist?
Research has shown that, in general, treatments delivered via telehealth are as effective as those delivered in face-to-face sessions. Unlike other healthcare services which can require physical contact, the primary method of interaction in a behavioral health session is through discussion, modeling, and practice. Therefore, most of our treatments translate very well to telehealth.
What kind of technology access do I need?
In general, all you need is a device with a microphone and webcam (a smartphone, tablet, or computer) and a reliable internet connection. If you do not have access to these things, talk to your therapist about the possibility of a phone session. Otherwise, your therapist will let you know what specific telehealth platform to use for the session. In general, these programs are designed to be very user-friendly for patients and families. You do not have to be tech savvy to participate in telehealth!
Where will the session take place?
Your therapist will be in a professional space, such as in the clinic or a home office. The information you share via telehealth will receive the same level of confidentiality protection as if you were in the clinic. However, since you won’t be sitting in your therapist’s office, you will want to make sure you and your child are also in a space that can provide a high level of privacy. A quiet space in your home, such as a spare bedroom, is ideal. You will want to identify a space where you and your child can talk to your therapist with minimal distractions. If there are other children in the home, you will want to arrange to have an adult or responsible adolescent in charge so your session won’t have any unanticipated interruptions. Of course, that is not always possible – but having that in mind as a goal is best. Once you have the space identified, it is a good idea to try out the device you plan to use for telehealth and make sure the camera and microphone are working well. Most telehealth platforms have a convenient “test call” feature so you can do a quick check. That way, you are ready to go when it is session time.
If the appointment is for my child, will I participate in the session also?
In general, plan to be present for at least part, if not all, of the initial session. How much you participate will depend on your child’s age, developmental level, and the reason your family is seeking treatment. Even if you are not participating in much of the session, it is important that you are available in case a technology issue or other concern arise.
Is there anything else I should know?
If you are seeking therapy for your child or family, you may find telehealth to be a convenient and effective alternative to face-to-face sessions. A therapist skilled in telehealth will help your family ease into the process smoothly. Although the current health crisis has dramatically changed our current lifestyle, in time the pandemic will ease and our daily routines will return. However, telehealth will continue to be a treatment option that will serve to broaden access to effective treatment.
This post was written in the Spring of 2020. Please follow your local guidelines and advice from family health care providers for appropriate, current coronavirus safety measures.