Taking “The Pond” Virtual With Online Mental Health!
It’s been a hectic few weeks for us at Pondworks! Want to know how it’s going with online mental health?
Step 1: Becoming A Virtually Virtual Telemedicine Mental Health Provider in Austin
As authorities began to urge us to practice “social distancing,” we had two goals:
- Keep our employees safe and healthy
- Offer our patients a way to keep their appointments without coming to our office.
On Monday, March 16th, we started to convert our entire practice from in-person meetings to elective telemedicine ones.
What We Do To Help Our Patients And Visitors
Video: we started with a HIPAA-compliant video platform. We trained our providers and created a communication strategy to reach out to our patients about the changes. Our phone lines went crazy.
Online Mental Health – Paperwork, Marketing, And Our Physical Austin Location
We have created new online forms that mirror our old ones, plus office rules specifically for telemedicine and a consent form, explaining the risks and benefits. We’ve been reaching out to our commercial insurance partners to find out whether telemedicine visits will be covered. We urged our patients to double-check!
Mental Health Marketing
Our online marketing efforts are getting tuned up to get the word out. We want to make it easy for patients to find mental health options and let them know we can still help them. Now might be a great time to start up or beef up your mental health and wellbeing! People have learned about our “combined” approach to medication management and psychotherapy, as well as the fact that we work with many commercial insurance companies.
Signs and Precautions
In our Austin office, signs got put up! Our office urged the use of hand sanitizer. We wiped our patients’ pens, credit, and insurance cards with bleach wipes. Best of all, NOBODY got offended! We expected someone might, but no one ever did. Everyone thought it was a great idea.
Our staff removed all reading materials from our waiting rooms.
Green dots were stuck on the carpet below chairs that are 6′ feet apart to encourage social distancing.
The phones we usually provide for patient self-check-in were removed
Mental Help Is Still Available And What A Relief!
Patients are relieved to know that their mental health can still be attended to. A few of our patients reported having symptoms of being sick. And they were happy to be still able to “meet” with their provider, online. A few others expressed wanting to come in person due to feelings of isolation. Yet, others didn’t want to stare at just one more screen that has recently taken over their lives.
Providers are relieved that there is now measures in place to keep safe. (Did I mention our office manager was out on “vacation”?…she didn’t get to go anywhere, btw). We had some tech issues. On the third day, mid-afternoon, the entire telemedicine website went down. Call your patients! Start testing back-up platforms!
Step 2: All Inside To Shelter In Place, Lock Down The Clinic!
A week later, our local authorities issued “shelter in place” orders. On Wednesday, March 25th, we REQUIRED all appointments to take place via telemedicine, isolated feelings, or not. We locked our doors.
Psychiatric care is an “essential service.” Our mental health services are deemed essential by the State of Texas. And still many of our providers did not want to come to the office. A couple still did. We spaced out our administrative staff to meet social distancing requirements. We all kept trudging through the hundreds of voice mails and portal messages and uploading forms to patient electronic medical records. Upside: It’s now OK to wear jeans to work!
Step 3: Hunker Down, We’re Available To Provide The Best Mental Counseling & Psychiatric Care For Our Patients!
Now we prepare for the long haul. Our providers are becoming agile and responsive to tech snafus. They’re acclimating to the difference between a virtual visit and meeting with someone in person.
At times, patients who are physically at home don’t “show up” the same way they might have in the past. Why? Probably a combination of being at home, being out of their routine, and being more relaxed than when they physically come to an appointment at our office. Is that bad? It may be just different. We know it’s not forever!
We have no idea how the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately impact our business. We’re re-thinking everything. And most importantly, we’re available to our patients and working hard to stay healthy.