Tips to Improve Phone Therapy
While many psychologists and patients have adopted video conferencing for psychological treatment, that option is not viable for everyone because of technology and access limitations or preference concerns. Phone-only or audio-only therapy has solid evidence supporting its effectiveness and should be considered a viable option for care. However, audio-only therapy does have some unique aspects for psychologists and patients to consider. In this article, we shared some basic tips to improve phone therapy.
1. Verify the Patient and Location
A psychologist needs to be sure that an audio-only treatment is appropriate for this patient. Once you are sure, ask about and document the individual’s status and whereabouts. As you can’t see the setting so it’s important to ensure that it is your patient and they are in a private location. In the event of an emergency, confirming the patient’s location every time ensures that you can seek assistance if needed. Even if your patient is low risk for a mental health emergency, psychologists have already reported incidents such as a (child) patient being active during a telemental health session, falling, and beginning to cry and the psychologist needing to reach the guardian. Other mishaps could happen as well, such as a patient choking while drinking some water or something more concerning such as threatening self-harm.
2. Ensure Privacy and Confidentiality
Both you and the patient need to ensure privacy and confidentiality during the session as well as afterward. Each person should be able to secure the device or otherwise prevent others from being able to identify activity on the phone. For example, the patient or therapist can be identified in the contact list by initials only. With videoconferencing, it is often possible to see whether another person is present during the session but whether or not a person is alone may need to be verbally confirmed with audio-only therapy. Both psychologist and patient should avoid using public or unsecured Wi-Fi for calls on a mobile phone or other devices. A headset improves sound quality, is comfortable, and offers more confidentiality than using the speakerphone option. If possible, avoid using a personal phone but instead rely on a business or agency phone.
3. Minimize Distractions
A separate space for engaging in therapy is important for privacy concerns, it also helps for focus and concentration. Encourage the patient to do what it takes to find that space, whether the space is the car, the powder room, or a far-off bench under a tree removed from others. Additionally, when using a smartphone for audio-only sessions, turn off other apps, ringers, notifications, and alarms that can disrupt the time set aside specifically to address mental and behavioral health concerns. Finally, place the smartphone screen down and encourage your patient to do the same so even silenced texts or other notices that come during the session don’t distract.
4. Overcome Communication Difficulties
Audio-only therapy requires greater communication skills as we listen for nonverbal cues rather than watch for these cues. Over a phone call, psychologists should focus on listening for differences in pace and tempo of discourse, pauses, hesitations, changes in tone or inflection, or other differences. In audio-only therapy, psychologists need to be more overt and direct in their communication of empathy and their efforts to build rapport. More frequent vocalizations indicate that you are listening to your patient. Greater capacity for tolerating silence may be needed while the patient wrestles with difficult material, challenging ideas, or powerful emotions. With all our patients, we must pay particular attention when our patient’s culture, ethnicity, or language differs from our own. While communicating solely via phone, we will want to ‘check ourselves to ensure that we are not making inaccurate assumptions on the basis of what we hear without having the added visual information.
The last tip would be finding a medical billing company that would handle complete medical billing operations on your behalf. With assistance in medical billing, you can focus on sessions and overall patient care. Our mental health billing services include eligibility verification, charge entry, payment posting, denial management, accounts receivable, provider credentialing, and coding guidance. To know more about our mental health billing services, contact us at 888-552-1290/ [email protected]