A while back there was a very funny television show starring Lisa Kudrow (ditzy Phoebe from Friends) called “Web Therapy.” It was an improvised show and Lisa played a therapist who treated her patients over the Internet. Hence the title of the show.
Well, back when the show was on, the idea of treating mental health patients via a webcam seemed ludicrous. And the show did a great job at poking fun of Lisa’s character and her “wacky idea” of web therapy.
Fast forward 13 years after the show’s debut, and web therapy is now “a thing” thanks to telehealth technology. Yes, psychotherapy appointments and doctor’s visits can be held between provider and patient while one is in one building, state, or country and the other is somewhere else entirely.
Why was web therapy a joke 13 years ago but telehealth is now gaining in popularity? The shift is most likely due to the growing popularity of tech solutions among younger generations, spurred along by COVID. There’s also something very attractive about the ease of telehealth; of not having to leave your house or office to get the help you need.
As younger generations have become accustomed to using apps to have food, toiletries, and groceries delivered right to their door, they expect these same conveniences from their healthcare providers. Indicators suggest that push for telehealth and telecounseling is more than likely to become mainstream.
Benefits of Telehealth
We’ve already discussed the most obvious benefit of telehealth to consumers, and that is ease and cost-effectiveness. But what about the benefits to the healthcare providers?
To start, telehealth means those people who would otherwise feel too uncomfortable seeking therapy or seeing a particular doctor in person will now be open to seeing a provider “privately.” This means a healthcare provider has a larger number of people to deliver their services to, and the ability to make an appointment without the commute to the provider’s office saves time and money, not only for the patient, but for employers as well.
Also, since these services can be delivered from a home office, a doctor or therapist can typically reduce their practice’s operating costs and overhead expenses.
Many providers are saying the adoption of telehealth should have come sooner, but support and guidance on telehealth are finally coming from the American Psychological Association (APA) and other healthcare provider organizations.
Providers Need to Get Ready for the Switch
You can’t expect a therapist or doctor who has been treating patients face-to-face for x number of years to suddenly do well sitting in front of their computer’s camera. There are some subtle but important differences in working with patients over electronic connections, such as a doctor not being able to take vital signs or complete a physical exam or administer a hands-on treatment, such as procedures, manipulation, or acupuncture. Even some therapy modalities are difficult to utilize virtually.
Another difference for instance, in person, when a therapist or doctor breaks eye contact with a patient to take down a few notes, there is still a connection there because they are still in the same physical space. But over the Internet, when a provider looks away to take notes, it may seem to the patient that the client is distracted. Providers interested in offering telehealth services to their patients will have to keep things like this in mind and always assure they are paying attention.
The APA offers continuing-education workshops on telehealth at its Annual Convention, and several divisions have begun providing training in telehealth as well. Therapists, nutritionists, and physicians can also find online courses and training offered by the American Telemedicine Association. More research is needed in the field of telehealth and telecounseling to ensure that in-person and virtual care are equivocal.
No one is laughing any longer at the idea of web therapy. Instead, both consumers and providers are embracing technology to bring about positive change and outcomes.