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Telehealth Treatment Sessions Hold Ongoing Challenges for Clinicians

March 05, 2021
Steven Chan, MD, MBA
Steven Chan, MD, MBA

Mental health clinicians have utilized telehealth to provide treatment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a need for alternative plans when technology fails and open conversations with patients to remain effective, Steven Chan, MD, MBA, said at a Psych Congress Regionals session on telepsychiatry.

Dr. Chan who is also a member of the Psych Congress and Psych Congress Elevate Steering Committees, advises having backup computers, tablets, or phones to ensure seamless telehealth treatment for the patient. It is essential to retrieve both the patient’s phone number and an emergency contact in case another mode of communication fails or there is a crisis, he said. Having open dialogue with patients can help make them more comfortable with these technologies and their limitations.

Mental Health Clinicians Satisfied With Telehealth Experiences

The continued extension of the COVID-19 public health emergency has led to increased access to telehealth services and an expanded pool of available health care providers. Many of the current telehealth practices will be “here to stay” due to the positive experiences using these platforms, reaching patients over long distances, ease of scheduling, reducing transportation barriers for patients in urban and rural settings, and lowering financial costs for clinicians, Dr. Chan told attendees of the virtual session.

Currently, many clinicians are utilizing videoconferencing technology for treatment, but due to some patients' preference or spotty internet connections, telephone sessions can be effective. It is important to have open conversations with patients and "let the patient know what you can and cannot do over the telephone,” said Dr. Chan, clinical informaticist and Medical Director for Addiction Consultation & Treatment, Palo Alto VA Health, California.

While there are many benefits to telephone sessions and prescreens such as no lag time and technological ease, Dr. Chan warns that there can be some liabilities with phone sessions.

Clinicians cannot perform parts of the mental status exam because they cannot see the patient's environment, activities, actions, or how they are moving. Check with your legal or risk management department and best practices in your community to avoid legal issues, Dr. Chan suggested.

—Meagan Thistle


“Ask the Expert: Telepsychiatry.” Presented at Psych Congress Regionals: Virtual; February 26, 2021.

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