As the world becomes increasingly digitally connected, social work practice is following in its footsteps. Is your workplace using Telemental Health yet? If not, it might well be soon. Read on to learn about what Telemental Health is, the pros and cons for social workers, and how to incorporate it into your client care.
Have you ever been part of a mobile crisis hotline or called or called clients at home to check in on them? If so, you’re already using modern technology to work with clients beyond face to face visits. Telemental Health incorporates a wide variety of technology to support the people we serve. As our technology options grow, so does Telemental Health, or the use of technology to treat our clients.
Telemoral Health utilizes modern technology such as email, text messaging, using apps, and videoconferencing to serve patients. For example, rather than seeing a client face to face for a routine check in, a social worker could text the patient to see how they are doing. Videoconferencing calls can easily replace more in-depth in person appointments. And social workers can email clients non-urgent updates and communications.
Telemental Health opens up social work services to a number of clients who previously had significant barriers to coming in for in-person appointments. For example, clients who live in rural areas often have limited resources and supports in their area. With Telemental Health, these clients can receive services without having to make an expensive trip to see a practitioners.
Clients in areas with more resources can also benefit. Even if a city has a number of practitioners and good public transportation, there are many reasons clients might not be able to make in-person appointments. Some clients, due to illness or other disabilities, find it difficult or impossible to travel to an office. Others have personal commitments, such as work or caregiving, that make it challenging to travel when the office is open. Telemental Health is an efficient and cost-effective way to ensure they receive continued care.
While Telemental Health is a promising service, there are still challenges related to using it. Many insurance companies haven’t yet caught up with the trends and don’t cover Telemental Health services, or only cover it in limited circumstances. This makes it more difficult for clients to access these services without paying for expensive treatment.
Cross-border licensure issues can also be a challenge for social workers, particularly if they want to treat patients who live in another state. Since licenses are issued by states, in many cases it isn’t legal for social workers to treat a patient in a different state. Some states are making out of state treatment simpler for social workers to provide, by allowing social workers who live in another state to become licensed to practice in their state.
Finally, unique ethical issues can come into play with Telemental Health treatment. With certain electronic communication, such as email or apps, it can be more difficult to protect client confidentiality due to risk of data breath. It’s also important to consider the cultural competence and sensitivity of any programs the social worker uses in treatment, as well as the social worker’s awareness of populations outside of their usual location.
With the right training, social workers can positively incorporate Telemental Health into their client services. Before using a new technological platform with clients, social workers should ensure they get trained in properly using it with clients. They should also ensure any apps or programs they use with clients were developed by properly credentialed practitioners and meet the needs of the populations they serve. Ensure your clients confidentiality is protected, and that you can legally serve clients where they’re located.
With further research, development, and training, in the future Telemental Health just might become an integral part of treatment with all the people we serve.