Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Telehealth services have transformed the psychology landscape in Australia.
And, with recent changes to the Medicare billing items, psychologists are no longer restricted to offering Telehealth services solely to people living in remote communities. Telehealth can now be used to significantly extend your service reach, helping you generate new referrals and engage with a broader patient base.
We’re here to explore how you can use Telehealth to reach a wider audience and grow your practice.
Telehealth is the delivery of health services remotely, making it ideal in situations where patients and providers are separated by distance. Although the name implies telephone sessions, Telehealth consultations are more often conducted via video calls, which dramatically expands the scope of healthcare services.
In the past, psychologists could only provide Telehealth services to people in remote areas. This rule was relaxed with the arrival of the pandemic in 2020. The Australian government – acknowledging the value of Telehealth services during a period of increased isolation – introduced a set of temporary Medicare billing items to support Telehealth implementation during the pandemic. This allowed psychologists and other healthcare professionals to continue to provide their services remotely.
Unsurprisingly, this mode of therapy quickly became a crucial element in the continuation of patient care, both urban and rural, amidst lockdowns and social distancing.
Though initially a reactive measure, Telehealth has since become integral to the healthcare system. Seeing the benefits and increased access to healthcare services that Telehealth provides, the Australian government has taken the necessary steps to make these Medicare items more permanent.
Telehealth Benefits for Clients – More Than Just Convenience
In short, the introduction of Telehealth has been a game-changer. It’s a catalyst for truly advanced mental health service delivery.
One of the standout benefits of Telehealth is its ability to connect psychologists with vulnerable populations. This isn’t limited to geographical distance; it’s also about accessibility for various demographic and societal groups.
Let’s talk about this in a little more detail.
Geographically Remote Populations
It’s well-documented that individuals who live in remote areas are often underserved by traditional healthcare services. In Australia, with many communities located across isolated regions, it can be challenging for people from these areas to access the critical healthcare services they need.
The growth of Telehealth services makes connecting with psychologists possible without the burden of long-distance travel.
Now, a psychologist’s services are as accessible as the nearest internet connection or telephone line. Telehealth eliminates the time, cost, and physical burden of travel, making regular sessions more feasible and affordable.
Reaching Vulnerable Populations
When we talk about vulnerable populations, we’re talking about those who are often most in need of therapy but may not be able to access a face-to-face service.
Vulnerable populations might include the following:
- Stay-at-home parents juggling household responsibilities.
- Patients dealing with anxiety who may find comfort in familiar surroundings.
- Individuals in abusive situations who may be seeking help discreetly.
- People who are under financial stress and cannot afford the transportation costs of attending appointments (e.g. fuel, train tickets).
- Busy professionals who can’t leave their workplaces but have access to a private space.
- Clients with disabilities who may find it difficult to leave their homes to access psychology sessions.
- Clients who seek a psychologist with specific experience or treatment modalities that can’t be accessed in their local area, such as EMDR, perinatal mental health, or child and adolescent psychology.
If a patient is concerned about publicly obtaining professional psychological support (such as by visiting an office in a small town), they are far more likely to attend and maintain Telehealth sessions. This may also apply to people in frontline or specialised roles who do not wish their colleagues to know they are accessing psychological therapies.
Telehealth Benefits for Practitioners
While Telehealth presents benefits for patients, it’s also transformative for practitioners. It can reshape the traditional framework of running a psychology practice.
Let’s delve into a few advantages:
By offering Telehealth services, it’s entirely possible to split your week between office-based consultations and working from home. This hybrid approach can improve work-life balance and reduce commuting time and expenses. It also becomes possible to take your practice 100% online if you wish.
Recruitment and Expansion
If you conduct a significant portion of your business through Telehealth, it expands the geographical reach of your practice.
We’ve already seen that you can extend your services to patients outside your immediate locality – but, importantly, you can also recruit and collaborate with team members from various locations.
Diversification of Services
Telehealth opens up opportunities to form contractual relationships with other organisations. Not being bound by the physical confines of a purely traditional psychology practice means that you can, quite literally, do more.
For instance, you could offer consulting services to HR departments on performance or stress management, opening up a new revenue stream.
You could also offer webinars or education sessions to a wider audience in your area of expertise.
Telehealth allows you to structure your appointment rostering so that it caters to your schedule and the unique needs of your patients. Never before has it been so achievable to find a workable middle ground between your life and patients’ needs.
For example, Telehealth empowers you to conveniently offer evening appointments to patients who prefer post-work hours or the quiet period after their children have gone to bed.
This approach not only offers flexibility but also reduces overhead costs. If you conduct Telehealth sessions from home to fit in around your other responsibilities, then you don’t have to pay for room rental or an office lease.
Using Telehealth to Generate Referrals
Determine the Services You’ll Offer
Start with the basics. Define the services you’ll provide via Telehealth, including the hours you want to offer. Begin by blocking out a half day or 1-2 days for Telehealth clients and gradually increase your hours/ days as your referrals increase. This means seeing clients in one block (say 3-4 hours) rather than booking four clients separately over four days.
Keep it simple at the beginning to manage growth sustainably. Gradually add to your offerings as you grow.
Spread the Word
Other ways to reach your chosen organisations include directly emailing businesses or sending a referral introduction letter via snail mail.
Companies appreciate efficiency and value-added services for their employees.
You can promote Telehealth services as an integral part of the company’s well-being program. The convenience of employees being able to attend a Telehealth appointment from their office space without the need to travel can be a compelling proposition. This is known as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), an agreement you set up between yourself and an organisation to provide psychological services to their employees as needed.
Schools can be another excellent avenue for Telehealth services.
Consider providing mental health support for students, especially those in remote areas, or school consultations for behavioural issues. This can be a significant addition to a school’s support system.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), particularly those supporting specific groups like recent immigrants or rural residents, can benefit from Telehealth collaborations. NGOs often receive funding for mental health support services but may lack the resources or staffing to implement them fully.
For instance, a community health centre a town away may have funding for counselling services but only one part-time psychologist. Alternatively, a local council with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) might require your services while ensuring confidentiality through de-identified billing.
Practitioners in rural areas are often overlooked for collaboration opportunities, and many rural-based health professionals struggle to make referrals due to limited options.
Approaching them directly can open new possibilities for business generation.
Tips to Set Yourself Up for Telehealth Calls
Transitioning to Telehealth requires more than just the right technology; it’s about creating an environment that prioritises privacy, comfort, and professionalism.
Here are some tips to ensure you’re fully prepared for your Telehealth sessions:
- Private Space: Choose a location that ensures privacy. It’s vital not only for compliance with The Privacy Act but also for building trust with your patients.
- Presentable Background: Keep your backdrop professional and uncluttered. A clean, simple background helps maintain the focus of the consultation.
- Audio and Visual Privacy: Ensure that your conversations can’t be overheard and that others can’t view your screen.
- Distraction-Free Environment: Silence notifications on your devices and inform others not to disturb you during consultation hours.
- Camera Positioning: Position your camera so that it’s at eye level. It helps maintain a more direct sense of contact and engagement.
- Eye Contact: Try to place the patient’s video window just below your webcam to maintain the illusion of eye contact during the session.
- Internet Connection: Ensure that you have a stable, high-speed internet connection. It’s crucial to prevent disruptions or lags during the session.
- Lighting: Ensure your space is well-lit. If needed, consider investing in a ring light to illuminate your face, ensuring clear visibility.
- Use Headphones: Headphones improve audio quality and add an extra layer of privacy. They communicate to your patient that their words are for your ears only.
- Effective Telehealth Interface: Ensure you use a platform that best facilitates your sessions and, preferably, interfaces well with your practice management software. Power Diary offers two Telehealth options, including Telehealth Plus+, with enhanced features like backgrounds, screen-sharing and a chat function.
Telehealth is a personal and professional service; setting up your space accordingly is essential to its success. This ensures patients feel comfortable and secure, fostering a stronger therapeutic relationship.
Power Diary Features that Support Telehealth Services
Providing Telehealth services becomes much simpler when Telehealth is available as part of your practice management software.
Power Diary’s robust features help streamline your Telehealth services and improve the patient experience:
- Online Forms: Power Diary’s online forms allow you to collect essential information from patients before their Telehealth appointment. You can also provide an area for patients to upload any relevant attachments, such as letters or test results.
- Time Zone Support: Power Diary supports a time zone-linked profile field, an essential feature when working with patients in different time zones. This ensures that appointment times are accurate to avoid confusion.
- Secure Payment Collection via Stripe: The platform enables you to securely collect card details during the first billing, through an invoice, or at the time of online booking.
- Online Booking: Set up Telehealth as a location in Power Diary to display available Telehealth appointments in the Client Portal. This feature allows patients to self-book sessions 24/7.
- Telehealth Link Sharing: Power Diary facilitates the easy sharing of Telehealth links. You can send these directly to patients, simplifying the process of joining the video call.
- Telehealth Plus+ for Group Appointments: Telehealth Plus+ allows for group appointments, a great option for group therapy sessions, family therapy, or team consultations.
Power Diary’s integrated features are designed to make Telehealth as smooth as possible, allowing you to focus on providing quality care to your patients, regardless of their location.
Telehealth offers an exciting opportunity for psychologists. It’s more than just a technological advancement – it’s a revolution in care delivery that breaks down geographical and societal barriers, bringing psychological services to those who need them most.
Telehealth opens doors to an expanded patient base, new referrals, and the potential for collaborations with other organisations.
With thoughtful planning and by leveraging tools like Power Diary, you can seamlessly integrate Telehealth into your practice. The potential for growth is vast, and the impact on your patients’ lives can be profound.