Many of those in the helping profession have had to endure the transition into telehealth for social work. Since the start of the pandemic, many social workers have had to pick up telehealth solutions in order to keep meeting with clients and working on their cases. A huge part of the profession is meeting clients where they are (in schools, in their homes, in hospitals, etc). This transition has forced the field to adapt considerably. Such a tough transition came with challenges but also benefits for social workers everywhere.
COVID-19 and Telehealth for Social Workers
The pandemic forced every type of profession to adapt to its new reality. Social work as a field is dedicated to building relationships within communities, working closely with others, and helping their clients through some of the most difficult and wonderful times in their entire life. Such engagement feels as though it deserves an in-person interaction, but COVID-19 no longer allowed it. For social workers that provide essential mental health services, telehealth became the go-to solution. Telehealth for social work enabled individuals to continue accessing the care they needed during difficult times. For many professionals, the pandemic prompted their first-ever use of this kind of software.
How Telehealth for Social Work is Benefiting the Field:
Telehealth for social work offers a unique kind of flexibility that can be incredibly beneficial to professionals. Providers see more clients on average when they use telehealth due to the fact that it cuts down on time wasted at the beginning and end of visits, reduces wait times, and is easily accessible. With telehealth for social work, professionals are able to have a more flexible schedule and also be more flexible for their clients.
One of the biggest barriers to mental health services is transportation. In communities that rely on public transportation or have no transportation at all, mental health services fall low on the priority list. Telehealth completely eliminates this barrier, making services considerably more accessible for individuals everywhere.
For the on-the-go client, the client that lives far away, or the one with a strict work schedule, telehealth for social work remains accessible. Clients who find it hard to get to and from appointments during the workday will find that telehealth fits in their schedule nicely. With telehealth as an option, client engagement goes up and loyalty is established.
Challenges Associated with Telehealth for Social Work:
Sometimes telehealth for social work can open up a window for distractions that might not exist in a traditional office setting. These distractions could include a client’s phone, work, others in their home,
and a number of other things. On the other side, receiving services from their home could offer a certain kind of comfort that might be better than in the office.
Some Services Cannot Be Delivered This Way
Not every social work service can be delivered via telehealth. Telehealth for social work applies to the mental health service subsection of social work that functions much like a mental or behavioral health provider. It enables councilors to continue working with clients despite restrictions from the pandemic. Other social work services might not be able to be completed with a tool like this.
Ethical and Legal Considerations
Consistent with Code of Ethics
All social workers are familiar with the social work code of ethics. There are several considerations to take note of when utilizing telehealth for social work. The National Association for Social Workers (NASW) lists the following ethical considerations for professionals looking to utilize telehealth:
Before utilizing any new services, social workers must make sure they are competent and trained in that area.
2) Is it the Best Service Modality?
Any utilization of software or service should be in the best interest of the client. Choosing to use telehealth for social work should not hinder the progress of the client.
3) Licenses and Insurance
No professional can just jump into using telehealth for social work. Depending on state and federal regulations, there may be certain licenses and insurance required for a professional to adopt such a tool.
4) HIPAA Compliant Platform
Any software service that a social worker uses to offer telehealth should meet or exceed HIPAA compliance standards.
Some clients may not be covered for telehealth or their payer may have different requirements for telehealth compared to in-person services. Anyone using telehealth for social work should pay attention to these details.
6) Create Technology Standards, Policy, and Procedures
Anyone using telehealth for social work should develop a telehealth policy that is communicated to clients.
7) Emergency Backup Plan
Should the telehealth service not work for any reason, a technical error takes place, or any other kind of issue occurs, social workers must make their best effort to ensure the continuation of services.
8) Seek Consultation as Needed
While anyone using telehealth for social work should be trained and licensed in its use, social workers should seek consultation from IT professionals, attorneys, or any other relevant expertise if necessary.
While many social workers adopted telehealth due to the pandemic, many are likely to still use it once it is over. The benefit that telehealth offers clients is too incredible not to take part in. Telehealth for social work eliminates barriers to mental health services while offering professionals and their clients the flexibility and accessibility they need.