Dr Karen Li
Telehealth explained

Telehealth explained

The following information is provided to help you make an informed decision about using telehealth for your psychology service. Therapy delivered by video conference has been found to be effective.

What is telehealth or video-therapy?

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), defines telehealth as healthcare delivery or related activities that use any form of technology as an alternative to face-to-face consultations. It includes, but is not restricted to, videoconferencing, internet and telephone. It does not refer to the use of technology during a face-to-face consultation. 

Both AHPRA and Medicare advice that videoconference services are the preferred approach for substituting a face-to-face consultation. However, telephone can be used if video is not available. Email, online chat and text messaging do not constitute a telehealth session.

What is videoconferencing?

A videoconference (or video call) is similar to how you might connect with family, friends or business associates via video call applications, like Zoom – except those applications are not designed or secured for the delivery of health services.

Is telehealth suitable for me?

Potentially anyone with access to a phone or computer and internet can receive a telehealth service. However, telehealth is not suitable for all clients. Factors to consider include:

  • your capacity to use technology (e.g. know-how or cognitive impairment);
  • any barriers to engaging in telehealth, such as visual or hearing impairment, language or communication barriers, and some mental health symptoms;
  • the suitability of your environment for telehealth (e.g. whether suitably private and safe); and
  • safety concerns (e.g. if there is an imminent risk to yourself or others)

What is the standard of care for telehealth?

AHPRA expects all health practitioners, including psychologists, to ensure the standard of care provided in a telehealth consultation meets the same required standard of care provided in a face-to-face consultation. This means, the same level of privacy and confidentiality and ethical professional practice required for in-person services, applies to telehealth services. Practitioners must [also] ensure that their chosen telecommunications solutionmeets their clinical requirements and satisfies privacy laws

What are the benefits and limitations of telehealth?

Telehealth has numerous benefits for clients and can be as effective as in-person therapy for common mental health conditions. However, it also comes with some limitations and risks.

Benefits of telehealth include:
  • the general convenience of accessing a psychology service from virtually anywhere, such as your home or office or out-of-town;
  • better accessibility to psychological services for individuals who
    • live in rural or remote areas, or
    • have a disability or mobility issues, or
    • are housebound (e.g. due to illness, injury or a chronic health condition), or
    • have transport issues, or
    • are fly-in fly-out workers.
  • the use of interactive technologies and online materials or videos in session;
  • continuity of treatment and services with your therapist if you or they relocate;
  • some people can feel more comfortable or less inhibited engaging in therapy online; and
  • studies have found that therapeutic outcomes, client satisfaction and the quality of the therapeutic relationship are generally similar for telepsychology and in-person therapy (at least for the populations and therapies studied).
Limitations and risks of telehealth include:
  • not all clients have access to the technology required for telehealth;
  • technology can be unreliable, so the service may be disrupted or end prematurely;
  • remote therapy isn’t for everyone – some clients simply prefer or benefit more from traditional in-person services;
  • an online format isn’t for everyone – some clients don’t feel confident using technology or are uncomfortable being on screen, which may increase anxiety or stress;
  • some clients may not have a suitably private or safe place to engage in therapy or to debrief afterwards;
  • body language and other non-verbal cues can be missed or misinterpreted, and may result in misunderstandings or misdiagnosis;
  • some cornerstones of therapy, such as rapport and engagement, may not be as easily developed online for some clients;
  • some interventions may be less effective or not safe to deliver via telehealth;
  • the psychologist can’t usually respond as quickly or effectively if a crisis occurs;
  • telehealth is not suitable for everyone (see who can receive a telehealth service); and
  • more research is needed to show the effectiveness of telehealth for a wider range of presentations, interventions and services.

Are rebates available for telehealth?

Rebates for telehealth are usually limited to rural and remote clients. However, Medicare rebates are presently available for all Australians to access telehealth until 30 June 2021. Most private health funds and Government-affiliated third parties are also funding telehealth during COVID-19. Enquire with your health fund for further details.

How do I get started?

We use a paid version of Zoom that has security and privacy features. Before your session, make sure you have zoom downloaded. If using an iPad or smart phone you shall need to download the App – Zoom Cloud Meetings (https://zoom.us/download).

For more information about how to get started on zoom, click here. This video is also useful https://youtu.be/hIkCmbvAHQQ.

You can also test your connection by joining a test meeting here.

You will receive an email and/or SMS with the appointment link before your appointment.