Guidelines for Using Telehealth for Group Therapy

Tag Archives: COVID-19

Guidelines for Using Telehealth for Group Therapy

telehealth for group therapy

Group therapy uses many of the same approaches as individual therapy and research has shown it can sometimes be more effective. The use of group therapy during the social isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has proven more helpful than ever. Patients connected through virtual telehealth apps form a sense of belonging, build a support system, re-establish a sense of community, and reduce feelings of social isolation even while logging in remotely. While a great tool for behavioral health, using telehealth for group therapy does have some legal and ethical challenges to be cognizant of. However, the future of healthcare is moving towards more self-service options and telehealth is here to stay.

Privacy is a central concern in the legal and ethical framework of using telehealth for group therapy. Group therapy has been infrequently used in telehealth in the past so best practices and guidelines are still emerging. Privacy guidelines have been relaxed due to COVID-19 and the federal government has waived penalties for HIPAA violations through a “good faith” provision for telehealth for the duration of the public health emergency. However, psychologists should still refer to the APA Ethics Code and to the APA Practice Guidelines for Telepsychology

Create detailed consent forms so patients are aware of any risks, benefits and limits to confidentiality while using telehealth for group therapy. It should be clear that these sessions involve multiple people and are conducted outside controlled office settings. Have a policy in place on handling confidentiality breaches such as non-group members coming into the room and overhearing a meeting. 

Advise group members to login for their online session in a space free of distractions, other people and where they can speak freely. They should wear headphones or keep the volume low to prevent anyone nearby from hearing. Tell them to inform others near their location not to disturb them during meeting times. Form policies around whether patients can login via their phones or with their cameras off. Also consider if patients should be allowed to wear a non-threatening disguise to protect their identity while on camera. 

For the best security through your system, use a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform as those have been evaluated for security, privacy and encryption best practices. Also consider using an embedded telehealth tool that is a part of your Electronic Health Records (EHR) system. That will reduce your workload, prevent errors and lower the risk of burnout. 

While there are many legal and ethical considerations surrounding using telehealth for group therapy, the benefits of group interaction are many. Increased access to healthcare is one of the primary benefits of telehealth. Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of healthcare can be improved with these telehealth technologies. We just need to move carefully forward while thinking about protecting patients’ privacy. 

Modernize Public Health Infrastructure to Defend Against Emerging Viruses

modernize public health infrastructure

Getting back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic would be getting back to a normal where Americans were vulnerable to that form of devastation. COVID-19 has made us aware that public health and economic prosperity are linked. The threat of emerging viruses has been, and continues to be, one of our nation’s greatest threats. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 40 public health leaders and corporate health executives met to identify and outline solutions to strengthen our nation’s response to COVID-19. They also discussed ways to move forward and protect us from other emerging viruses. They call to modernize public health infrastructure and for other changes for the betterment of American public health.

Public health experts have stated that a modernized public health infrastructure could have saved more lives from COVID-19 and protected against some of the economic fallout. They advocate that spending be reorganized to update public health technologies and data systems. They also named strengthening partnerships across sectors, effectively coordinating with the federal government, hiring more specialized healthcare workers and addressing systemic injustices as key to a more effective public healthcare system.

The roadmap outlined by these experts to improve public health includes updated technologies because these are essential in times of crisis. These data systems and the information exchanges between public health centers and immunization registries is vital to a faster and more effective response to viral threats on the American public. These data systems make sure public health workers have the information they need to make the right decisions and to employ the right strategies in response to public health emergencies. These technologies are used to track emerging threats, monitor at-risk populations, prevent disease, and promote wellness within our communities.

As public health experts work towards ending and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, they hope to ensure America is better prepared to address future public health crises. It is important not to take this pandemic as a standalone incident and to be prepared when, and not if, another virus outbreak occurs. The government has been offering more funding towards public health infrastructure of late and some legislators are moving to create mainstay funding to keep public health data systems and infrastructure continually updated.

If your public health agency has received funding to modernize your public health infrastructure and you are now in the process of shopping for a new Electronic Health Record (EHR) solution, be sure to do your due diligence and evaluate vendors. Consider those that specialize in public health and find out whether their solution will allow you to connect with immunization registries and HIEs for greater access to health information and faster response time during a public health emergency. Any tools they offer for mass vaccination will also help.

Do Individuals have to Disclose Vaccination Status?

disclose vaccination status or not - the law

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a controversy about “vaccine passports”, medical privacy laws and individual rights. As the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) eases restrictions on individuals vaccinated against Coronavirus, many companies and individuals are asking for individuals to disclose vaccination status. HIPAA is often cited as a justification to avoid disclosing that vaccination status; however, there are common misconceptions on what HIPAA actually covers as protections for medical information. As part of helping community members make informed decisions on getting vaccinated, it is important that medical providers offer clarity on this subject. Patients should know the negative consequences of not getting vaccinated in addition to the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. These conversations are an important part of increasing vaccination in our communities.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, also known as HIPAA, provides safeguards to protect an individual’s identifiable health information from being disclosed without their knowledge or consent. This legislation only applies to certain health-related businesses, however. Those businesses include insurance companies, healthcare clearinghouses, healthcare providers, and business connections. Your doctor, for example, cannot disclose your medical information without your express consent. There are other federal and state privacy regulations that may force employers and schools to secure personal information as well. Otherwise, HIPAA and no other federal law prohibits private enterprises that serve the public from requiring personnel and customers to get vaccinated or from anyone else to ask about vaccination status.

Some people are hesitant to disclose their vaccination status, and everyone has the right to not disclose. There most certainly would be consequences of not disclosing, however. Families and friend groups can ask for individuals to disclose their vaccination status before visiting. An employer can ask and even require an individual to get the vaccine as a condition of employment. HIPAA does not prevent a business from denying a person entry if they refuse to disclose vaccination status also. While businesses cannot deny service because of color or gender, there is no regulation that says companies cannot discriminate based on an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination status during the pandemic.  

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) oversees federal anti-discrimination rules in the workplace. They released an advisory concerning employers asking about vaccination status. They stated that “there is no indication that an employer asking this question would be violating any federal law. If an employer’s efforts to find out why a worker didn’t get vaccinated elicits information regarding a disability, it might be a violation.”

It is important that patients understand how vaccination status affects their ability to return to life with eased restrictions. Not getting vaccinated and being willing to disclose that information can affect their ability to enjoy services, spend time with loved ones or be employed. Be sure that your patients’ understand these limitations on the law’s protections about being asked to disclose vaccination status so they can make informed decisions on being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Communication Tips to Increase COVID-19 Vaccinations

talking about vaccines

How can your organization start conversations about COVID-19, address the needs of individual communities and pave a path forward to increased vaccination rates? How do you prevent misinformation from creating hesitancy? As public health agencies continue trying to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19, we can use the following tips from public health experts to communicate skillfully about vaccines in order to build trust and confidence in community members. 

Make it personal.

Getting vaccinated is a personal decision. Keeping family members safe and healthy is a much more motivating factor than the community, the country, or the economy. Express your concern for the health of your patients and their loved ones, provide information and answer questions so that patients can make an informed decision that’s right for them.

Don’t be judgemental.

Avoid judgemental language when speaking to people who are concerned about taking the vaccine. Being concerned about taking a new vaccine for a new virus is normal. Address reservations by encouraging patients to ask questions and provide answers in ways they understand.

Stay positive.

Explain the benefits of getting vaccinated instead of just focusing on the consequences of not doing so. Emphasize that the benefits of getting vaccinated far exceed the risks and remind patients that getting vaccinated is the best step they can take towards returning to normal activities. 

Tailor your messages.

When speaking about the risks of declining vaccination, be sure to tailor your message to the patient you are speaking to from your perspective as their healthcare provider.

Build trust through people not organizations.

Recognize that people trust scientists, health and medical experts more so than corporations or government organizations. You can tell patients that nearly all doctors who have been offered the vaccine have taken it. You can also lead by example by encouraging your entire staff to get vaccinated.

Focus on safety.

Many people are concerned about the speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were created. De-emphasize talking about speed; share information about the safety of the vaccine and speak transparently about side effects. You can share with your patients that COVID-19 vaccines have been held to the same rigorous standards as other vaccines and that scientists and researchers have been studying, working with and creating mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and viral vectors (Johnson & Johnson) for decades.

Speak up against misinformation.

Misinformation will fill the silence if not making an effort to share facts about these vaccines with your patients. Post information in your waiting room, staff break room, common areas, your website and social media platforms. Also, consider sending a letter to your patients with an invitation for them to make an appointment with you.

Use technology to strengthen communication. 

Does your health agency have the ability to send automated messages to your patients and community members through your EHR? Reach out to your patients the way they like to receive communications whether via email, phone or text and welcome them in for appointments to discuss their concerns about vaccines with your providers. If you have a patient portal available, be sure to encourage community members to easily schedule their vaccination appointment though the app and to sign up for automated appointment reminders.

The way to move forward with getting your communities fully vaccinated is to open lines of communication and build trust and confidence through information sharing and answering questions. Help your community members make informed decisions to protect themselves and their family members. Increase communication with technology built to help you more easily reach your patients. If your current EHR software does not provide these tools, consider comparing other vendors and whether or not it is time to make a switch.

Patagonia Health Provides Tools to Public Health Departments for Successful Mass Vaccination Initiatives

covid-19 vaccine

Patagonia Health’s fully-integrated Mass Vaccination App. efficiently manages the administration, tracking, and reporting of the COVID-19 vaccine.

To manage the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, health departments across the country need to efficiently manage vaccine administration, tracking, and reporting on a large scale. In response to the current environment, Patagonia Health launched a fully-integrated Mass Vaccination App. This secure, HIPAA-compliant solution allows patients to self-register for and self-schedule their vaccination appointment.  Patients are also able to view their consents, while clinicians are able to conduct and document mass vaccination (including off-site) visits directly within the EHR. 

As an expert in Public Health software, Patagonia Health already has the capabilities of vaccine inventory management and administration, including seamlessly sending vaccination data to state immunization registries. Making vaccination data available at the state, and thus national, level is key to effective pandemic response. Patagonia Health’s development team expanded these tools to include patient pre-registration and the ability to manage mass vaccination patients separately from a health department’s regular schedule. Additionally, the app will track multiple COVID vaccine doses based on manufacturer and Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“Many of our customers are in the middle of the largest mass vaccination campaign they have ever performed,” says Ashok Mathur, Founder and CEO, Patagonia Health. “Working with our customers, our team immediately began the process of developing a Mass Vaccination App to meet the demand for the management, delivery and administration of vaccination services at an unprecedented level. Public health department’s staff are stretched due to the pandemic response and they appreciate the time and effort saved by the app. We are proud to contribute to the COVID-19 solution.”

Patagonia Health developed the Mass Vaccination App as an important part of their overall COVID-19 response. To support their customers, the software company rapidly deployed a COVID-19 screening tool and a fully-integrated telehealth solution earlier this year. Patagonia Health aims to provide rapid responses to meet customer needs, especially when faced with unexpected public health challenges.