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Telehealth for Group Therapy Sessions

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Telehealth for group therapy sessions

The use of telehealth for group therapy is a recent phenomenon that has quickly come of age during the coronavirus pandemic. The benefits of group therapy for participants have long been known, but participation by all group members is a significant challenge that plagues traditional therapy environments. Telehealth sessions provide patients with an alternative when they can’t attend due to health, travel, or other issues.

After COVID-19 began its spread, the initial shutdowns left mental health care providers scrambling for virtual connectivity options that enabled patients to meet with a facilitator as a group. Platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet initially filled the void, but they were lacking when it came to HIPAA compliance and other issues that include signing healthcare forms and providing payment. Not all patients have access to technology to scan and photograph necessary documents and return them to the provider.

Fortunately, telehealth platforms have improved in terms of features and accessibility since the early days of the pandemic. The changes to telehealth platforms mean patients can attend group sessions without the stress of finding transit, can take advantage of e-signing forms, have an easier time providing documentation, and can still connect with others in the group. The facilitator can run the session using moderation controls similar to the controls and tools they use during an in-person group therapy session. Telehealth platforms for group therapy sessions provide comfort and connection the same as in-person and enable everyone to gain the benefits of therapy. Here’s a look at the benefits of telehealth for group therapy sessions.

Improved access to group therapy for patients

Regular attendance is the biggest issue patients face when it comes to group therapy sessions. Patients face a variety of issues ranging from childcare to uncertain work schedules that make it harder for them to reach the facility. Telehealth for group therapy has evolved, making it easier than ever for patients to attend a session and maintain steady progress. Mobile and desktop applications enable a patient to plan their attendance, make themselves comfortable, minimize distractions and participate in professionally moderated group therapy without the need to travel. Patients can attend from a tablet, smartphone, laptop, or desktop and benefit from the interactions the same as they would from attending in-person.

Patients connect with each other for support

The purpose of group therapy is to bring people with similar problems into the same space and allow them to share their experiences with each other. The goal is to get individuals to feel less isolated and know that there are others out there that share the same problems or experiences. Patients form bonds and naturally support one another when they realize that there are other people who can relate to a specific event in their life. Early on, providers were concerned that telehealth for group therapy would prevent patients from connecting with one another, but this has been found to not be the case.

Mental health care providers have found that telehealth group therapy sessions create the same kind of bonding and support the same as in-person sessions. All the beneficial elements that make an in-person group therapy session a valuable place for patients also exist in a virtual setting. Telehealth platforms helped patients and facilitators stay on track during the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue providing a convenient mental health care solution for all participants.

Screensharing lets the facilitator share audio and video with the group

Screensharing is a convenient feature that enables the facilitator to share something with the entire group and get patients to engage. The facilitator can play a video with audio, put up an image for discussion, or put up a quiz for patients to answer during the meeting. The uses for screen sharing are endless and can improve patient participation.

The facilitator can retain control of the group at all times

Moderation is key to keeping a group running smoothly and with minimal disruption. A fully-featured telehealth platform has a moderation dashboard that enables the facilitator to take control of the session when problems arise. One example of a fully-featured moderation dashboard is found on the Sunwave telehealth platform. In Sunwave, the facilitator has the ability to remove a disruptive patient from the platform, mute someone who’s not listening at the moment, and create a breakout session for someone who needs immediate care or correction. These features mirror the tactics that a facilitator has at their disposal during an in-person meeting and carry the same effect.

A facilitator doesn’t have to work alone in a group therapy session via telehealth, either. A moderator can sit in from their own access point and monitor the group. They can be charged with certain responsibilities and quietly take action when the need arises. The first facilitator can continue performing their duties with minimal disruption when there’s a moderator assisting the session.

Breakout sessions and polls in remote group therapy sessions

In larger groups or elongated group sessions, hosts may desire to create additional breakout sessions to discuss topics in a more intimate environment. Therapists may also desire to address situations 1:1 with an individual in a breakout room while the larger group continues the conversation. Breakout sessions allow larger groups to be broken into smaller groups to exchange experiences or points of view.

When in a group you may poll your clients to determine what topics are most pressing for them. Polls allow for additional context or opinions, and allow for less outspoken individuals to contribute without speaking publicly. Sessions become more interactive as participants are able to review material and respond to a question. When clients may sometimes just sit and listen while a clinician wants them to engage, polls can nudge clients to interact and provide more value to the group.

Sunwave supports both breakout sessions and polls for a full-featured remote interactive group therapy experience.

Documentation, scheduling, and payment within a telehealth platform

Meeting platforms designed specifically for telehealth come with features that streamline multiple administrative processes. Telehealth platforms like Sunwave offer integrated patient documentation pulled from admissions and clinical interactions. Providers can find a patient’s personal file and contact information in order to send them information, documents for signature, payment requests, and meeting reminders. This feature eliminates the need to go through multiple software applications during the effort to bring together necessary documents and direct them to the right patient.

Mental health care providers are still required to follow federal regulations when it comes to collecting sensitive information from patients. A fully-featured telehealth platform makes it easy and convenient for both provider and patient to handle medical documentation without compromising privacy and security. The provider can send the document directly to the patient for completion and signature. The patient can fill out the document through their device, use an electronic signature, and send it back to the provider through a secure portal.

Payment reminders are sent in a similar fashion to patients with the added convenience of multiple payment options. The payment portal can be enabled to accept credit cards, e-checks, PayPal, debit cards, and more.

Reminding patients of the next upcoming group meeting is another feature of telehealth platforms. A facilitator can schedule an automatic reminder to go out on a specific day or time, at whichever interval they choose, and as frequently as they like. For example, there’s a meeting coming up and the facilitator wants to remind patients on that day. The facilitator can send out a blast up to one hour before the meeting if they so choose. And these reminders can be sent individually or to a specific group of patients for their next meeting via text or email.

Telehealth and HIPAA Compliance

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS has the responsibility for enforcing certain regulations outlined in HIPAA and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act that amended HIPAA for electronic privacy rules. The OCR issued a notice that platforms including TikTok, Twitch, Facebook Live and similar sites are public-facing and can’t be used for providing telehealth. Telehealth platforms, such as Sunwave, are private-facing and comply with the OCR’s rules for telehealth.

Mental healthcare providers need to enforce internal privacy rules in order to maintain HIPAA compliance. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has loosened the regulations regarding private settings for providers and their use of telehealth platforms for the COVID-19 emergency, and won’t take action against providers who are taking reasonable precautions to protect patient privacy. Providers are asked to take precautions regarding the settings they’re conducting their sessions in. HIPAA doesn’t apply to patients, but providers need to make sure that patients do what they can to attend privately or keep disruptions to a minimum. An informed consent form that’s signed by patients in the group can help enforce privacy rules for all participants.

The best course of action for a provider is to use a telehealth platform for group therapy sessions that is designed to comply with HIPAA through manual and automatic processes. This allows the provider and facilitator to run sessions, take care of their patients, and not worry about keeping the platform in compliance with federal health privacy laws.

Telehealth for group therapy sessions

The use of telehealth for group therapy is a recent phenomenon that has quickly come of age during the coronavirus pandemic. The benefits of group therapy for participants have long been known, but participation by all group members is a significant challenge that plagues traditional therapy environments. Telehealth sessions provide patients with an alternative when they can’t attend due to health, travel, or other issues.

After COVID-19 began its spread, the initial shutdowns left mental health care providers scrambling for virtual connectivity options that enabled patients to meet with a facilitator as a group. Platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet initially filled the void, but they were lacking when it came to HIPAA compliance and other issues that include signing healthcare forms and providing payment. Not all patients have access to technology to scan and photograph necessary documents and return them to the provider.

Fortunately, telehealth platforms have improved in terms of features and accessibility since the early days of the pandemic. The changes to telehealth platforms mean patients can attend group sessions without the stress of finding transit, can take advantage of e-signing forms, have an easier time providing documentation, and can still connect with others in the group. The facilitator can run the session using moderation controls similar to the controls and tools they use during an in-person group therapy session. Telehealth platforms for group therapy sessions provide comfort and connection the same as in-person and enable everyone to gain the benefits of therapy. Here’s a look at the benefits of telehealth for group therapy sessions.

Improved access to group therapy for patients

Regular attendance is the biggest issue patients face when it comes to group therapy sessions. Patients face a variety of issues ranging from childcare to uncertain work schedules that make it harder for them to reach the facility. Telehealth for group therapy has evolved, making it easier than ever for patients to attend a session and maintain steady progress. Mobile and desktop applications enable a patient to plan their attendance, make themselves comfortable, minimize distractions and participate in professionally moderated group therapy without the need to travel. Patients can attend from a tablet, smartphone, laptop, or desktop and benefit from the interactions the same as they would from attending in-person.

Patients connect with each other for support

The purpose of group therapy is to bring people with similar problems into the same space and allow them to share their experiences with each other. The goal is to get individuals to feel less isolated and know that there are others out there that share the same problems or experiences. Patients form bonds and naturally support one another when they realize that there are other people who can relate to a specific event in their life. Early on, providers were concerned that telehealth for group therapy would prevent patients from connecting with one another, but this has been found to not be the case.

Mental health care providers have found that telehealth group therapy sessions create the same kind of bonding and support the same as in-person sessions. All the beneficial elements that make an in-person group therapy session a valuable place for patients also exist in a virtual setting. Telehealth platforms helped patients and facilitators stay on track during the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue providing a convenient mental health care solution for all participants.

Screensharing lets the facilitator share audio and video with the group

Screensharing is a convenient feature that enables the facilitator to share something with the entire group and get patients to engage. The facilitator can play a video with audio, put up an image for discussion, or put up a quiz for patients to answer during the meeting. The uses for screen sharing are endless and can improve patient participation.

The facilitator can retain control of the group at all times

Moderation is key to keeping a group running smoothly and with minimal disruption. A fully-featured telehealth platform has a moderation dashboard that enables the facilitator to take control of the session when problems arise. One example of a fully-featured moderation dashboard is found on the Sunwave telehealth platform. In Sunwave, the facilitator has the ability to remove a disruptive patient from the platform, mute someone who’s not listening at the moment, and create a breakout session for someone who needs immediate care or correction. These features mirror the tactics that a facilitator has at their disposal during an in-person meeting and carry the same effect.

A facilitator doesn’t have to work alone in a group therapy session via telehealth, either. A moderator can sit in from their own access point and monitor the group. They can be charged with certain responsibilities and quietly take action when the need arises. The first facilitator can continue performing their duties with minimal disruption when there’s a moderator assisting the session.

Breakout sessions and polls in remote group therapy sessions

In larger groups or elongated group sessions, hosts may desire to create additional breakout sessions to discuss topics in a more intimate environment. Therapists may also desire to address situations 1:1 with an individual in a breakout room while the larger group continues the conversation. Breakout sessions allow larger groups to be broken into smaller groups to exchange experiences or points of view.

When in a group you may poll your clients to determine what topics are most pressing for them. Polls allow for additional context or opinions, and allow for less outspoken individuals to contribute without speaking publicly. Sessions become more interactive as participants are able to review material and respond to a question. When clients may sometimes just sit and listen while a clinician wants them to engage, polls can nudge clients to interact and provide more value to the group.

Sunwave supports both breakout sessions and polls for a full-featured remote interactive group therapy experience.

Documentation, scheduling, and payment within a telehealth platform

Meeting platforms designed specifically for telehealth come with features that streamline multiple administrative processes. Telehealth platforms like Sunwave offer integrated patient documentation pulled from admissions and clinical interactions. Providers can find a patient’s personal file and contact information in order to send them information, documents for signature, payment requests, and meeting reminders. This feature eliminates the need to go through multiple software applications during the effort to bring together necessary documents and direct them to the right patient.

Mental health care providers are still required to follow federal regulations when it comes to collecting sensitive information from patients. A fully-featured telehealth platform makes it easy and convenient for both provider and patient to handle medical documentation without compromising privacy and security. The provider can send the document directly to the patient for completion and signature. The patient can fill out the document through their device, use an electronic signature, and send it back to the provider through a secure portal.

Payment reminders are sent in a similar fashion to patients with the added convenience of multiple payment options. The payment portal can be enabled to accept credit cards, e-checks, PayPal, debit cards, and more.

Reminding patients of the next upcoming group meeting is another feature of telehealth platforms. A facilitator can schedule an automatic reminder to go out on a specific day or time, at whichever interval they choose, and as frequently as they like. For example, there’s a meeting coming up and the facilitator wants to remind patients on that day. The facilitator can send out a blast up to one hour before the meeting if they so choose. And these reminders can be sent individually or to a specific group of patients for their next meeting via text or email.

Telehealth and HIPAA Compliance

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS has the responsibility for enforcing certain regulations outlined in HIPAA and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act that amended HIPAA for electronic privacy rules. The OCR issued a notice that platforms including TikTok, Twitch, Facebook Live and similar sites are public-facing and can’t be used for providing telehealth. Telehealth platforms, such as Sunwave, are private-facing and comply with the OCR’s rules for telehealth.

Mental healthcare providers need to enforce internal privacy rules in order to maintain HIPAA compliance. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has loosened the regulations regarding private settings for providers and their use of telehealth platforms for the COVID-19 emergency, and won’t take action against providers who are taking reasonable precautions to protect patient privacy. Providers are asked to take precautions regarding the settings they’re conducting their sessions in. HIPAA doesn’t apply to patients, but providers need to make sure that patients do what they can to attend privately or keep disruptions to a minimum. An informed consent form that’s signed by patients in the group can help enforce privacy rules for all participants.

The best course of action for a provider is to use a telehealth platform for group therapy sessions that is designed to comply with HIPAA through manual and automatic processes. This allows the provider and facilitator to run sessions, take care of their patients, and not worry about keeping the platform in compliance with federal health privacy laws.

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