Among the many challenges facing therapists today, one of the most thorny ones is how to successfully navigate digital transformation. Healthcare has been moving to a more digital experience for a while, but Covid forced a rapid adoption of many of the tools to enable therapists to continue caring for patients safely, most notably video calls replacing in-person appointments.
Now that we’ve got over the friction involved with moving our sessions from the office to Zoom, though, it’s time to consider what other aspects of our practices we might do well to digitise.
The tough part for many is in the implementation of these new technologies in a manner that empowers rather than distances. Professionals might feel like they’re offering a computer screen in place of one-to-one attention and personalized care, which is naturally a priority for every therapist. But going digital as a therapy practice doesn’t mean your client care needs to be compromised – the opposite is true.
In the duties and responsibilities of a therapist, chief among them is providing an uplifting patient experience – listening to challenges and responding appropriately, helping clients reflect to make positive changes, keeping confidential records of appointments. Digitally transforming your practice can help you find the right balance between streamlining processes with automation and maintaining the right touch with human interactions.
Here are five ways that a digital practice can help you give therapy patients better service, now and in the future.
Remove potential therapy barriers
A lot of people who are interested in therapy are also looking for reasons not to go, even though it’s beneficial. There’s still plenty of stigmas around receiving therapy, and it’s important that therapists do everything they can to counter that.
Part of that is making the experience frictionless, to remove any potential obstacles to therapy. Every additional email, forgotten appointment, or transfer of notes gives a reluctant patient one more excuse to bow out. In a sense, leaning into the on-demand nature of the digital product world, as opposed to resisting it, is the best way forward.
‘Each generation is getting progressively more mobile-native,’ noted John Prendergass, who served for two years as the Healthcare Investment Group lead at Ben Franklin Technology Partners, ‘so I think we’re going to see people become increasingly more accustomed, or predisposed, to a higher level of comfort in seeking care online.’
Simply by removing a lot of the back-and-forth emailing, automating reminders and follow-ups, and keeping all notes centrally and securely stored can make it that much easier for nervous patients to get the help they need.
Engage beyond individual sessions
Many therapists want to engage with their patients and their community of patients as a whole further than individual or group sessions, but lack the capacity or bandwidth to do so.
Patients would benefit from additional support in between appointments, like tips, community announcements, group resources or even awareness of deals or packages that might help them further. Especially in today’s culture of being constantly connected, it’s a comfort for patients to receive ongoing communications before and after specific sessions.
Engaging with patients more frequently helps build relationships faster and more consistently than forcing patients to wait between sessions.
Budget your focus
The lion’s share of therapists likely see spending one-on-one time with clients as the ideal for helping them overcome the difficulties they face in life. Most did not choose this line of work with the idea that they’d be spending hours on end handling all the accompanying administrative duties.
However, these tasks are absolutely vital for patients to receive proper service. Patient care can be first class, but if therapists are forced to invest too much time on organising appointments and finances, that can be a distraction from doing what they love.
‘To succeed today as a health care provider, you have to put so much effort into making sure that everyone’s appointment schedules are updated and that payments and related paperwork are all taken care of,’ said Itzik Levy, the co-founder and CEO of vcita. ‘And for people who operate independently, managing clinics by themselves or with smaller teams, that’s all on top of the administrative and fiscal management workload associated with maintaining a private practice. So from my perspective, anything that my team can do that helps make all that stuff easier on professionals, so they can focus on what matters most – actually making people’s lives better – then I’d say we all come out ahead.’
By automating a lot of the accompanying paperwork that comes with any therapy practice, it empowers therapists to keep their focus where it belongs, and where it is most rewarding for both them and their patients.
Join the always-online wave
Patients have an increased expectation that there will always be service, no matter the time of day, or day of the week. Naturally, it would not be possible or beneficial for therapists to make themselves constantly available to their patients.
Rather than leaving these patients in the lurch if they want to schedule an appointment outside of working hours, or want to access therapy resources on a weekend, digitally transforming a practice means offering out-of-hours options. By increasing possibilities for care outside normal working hours, therapists are better able to serve their clientele without crossing any personal boundaries that would negatively impact them.
This digital option helps therapists meet their patients where they are, rather than failing their expectations and potentially letting them down when they need care most.
Increase financial security
Therapists generally pursue a career in mental health because they have a desire to help others, not for money. But to run a successful practice, there needs to be financial stability. Often, when there isn’t that income security for therapists, it’s the patients who pay the price. For example, if practices go out of business unexpectedly, patients can be left in the lurch, needing care but between therapists without warning.
Equally, in order to provide care at affordable prices, the therapy practice has to be well-run, with expenses managed and overheads minimised. ‘We do care, and we do serve, but in order to do this work over the long haul and be healthy, we also need to charge our worth,’ wrote Nadene van der Linden, an Australian clinical psychologist and mentor.
Digitising a practice means that client intake is streamlined, with online forms and secure data collection. It can help reduce no-shows with automated reminders. This kind of smart contact management enables therapists to continue doing the work they’re so passionate about.
These five methods barely scratch the surface of what’s possible in the context of a digitised practice. Patients and therapists alike will benefit from the increase in engagement and communication between therapist and client; the wider and easier availability to schedule care; and the stability of ongoing care.
The hesitancy of therapists to embrace digital solutions is typically for a good reason. But it’s time to see how going digital isn’t at odds with hands-on, one-to-one human relationships that make therapy such a fundamental tenet of care for so many people. Ultimately, digital transformation allows therapists to put their focus back where it belongs: on the patients they care for.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.