If you just started offering telemental health sessions, or you’d like to refresh your virtual professionalism, this telehealth etiquette guide includes practical, actionable ideas. As a therapy delivery method, telehealth expands your clinical practice options and your client base. But since most counseling programs train therapists to deliver in-person services to individuals, families, and couples, pivoting to telehealth can be challenging.
Below are some telehealth etiquette tips to keep in mind:
Do your prep work
- Research and gather the necessary technology. At the bare minimum, you will need a video conferencing platform, camera/microphone, and a reliable internet connection.
- Create a plan B for technology failures during a session. You might want to have an additional laptop, external camera, microphone, and hotspot available.
- Headphones/earbuds and a white noise machine can be useful to conceal your conversation and preserve your client’s confidentiality. Consider your location too, and how the sound carries in your virtual office.
- Become comfortable enough with your technology to troubleshoot problems. Give the client a backup phone number, and ask for their contact details, to establish a secondary line of communication.
- Conduct a speed test and audio/visual check before clients sign in. Most platforms, like Zoom or Doxy.me, have this option available for users.
Consider telehealth law, ethics, and confidentiality
- Carefully secure client data and health information in the digital environment. Therapists utilizing telehealth should know what devices or communication methods could leave your client’s protected health information (PHI) exposed.
- Ensure that your video conferencing software is HIPAA friendly.
- Be aware of the security risks associated with emailing and text messaging.
- If the session is conducted by phone, ask identifying questions to verify that you are speaking with your intended client.
- Since the client may be in a hostile or public environment, guarantee that they are in a safe place to conduct the session.
Maintain your professional standards
- Think through your personal appearance. Looking the part motivates your clients to hold telehealth sessions to the same standard as in-person meetings. Wear an appropriate, professional outfit that reflects your credibility.
- Consider how to create a visually therapeutic environment, such as by including greenery, inspirational wall art, or calm light sources into your decor. Even though you are connecting virtually, you can still invite your clients into a warm, welcoming space.
At the end of the day, you’re the one taking charge of your telemental health sessions. The client ideally meets you partway, but you keep the process running smoothly. It’s also worth considering how to communicate etiquette suggestions to your clients, so that you reinforce expectations from the beginning.
If you are looking for a comprehensive telehealth training (that includes telehealth etiquette), over 20,000+ clinicians have participated in our training programs, including the Telemental Health Training Certificate program (THTC). This online self-study covers the essential ethical, legal, technological, and clinical competencies of telehealth.
- Iafolla, T. (2015). 10 telemedicine etiquette tips to deliver professional care. (Description: a quick list of additional etiquette tips).
- Lustgarten, S. D., Garrison, Y. L., Sinnard, M. T., & Flynn, WP. (2020). Digital privacy in mental healthcare: Current issues and recommendations for technology use. Current Opinion in Psychology, 36, 25-31. (Description: this research article explores current online vulnerabilities for telehealth therapists who communicate digitally).