Are you interested in a telehealth group practice? Where do you start? What software is needed?
In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks with clinician, Jeff Chicoski, who started a practice and designed his own software to do online therapy, which is designed for therapists to have telehealth software.
In This Podcast
In this podcast episode, Jeff Chicoski shares how he started his group practice and designed his own software to do online therapy, which is designed for therapists to have telehealth software.
Meet Jeff Chicoski
Jeff Chicoski has been in private practice for 10 years. He founded a Teletherapy Group, a hybrid teletherapy practice, based in Portage in 2016. After realizing that there wasn’t a software platform that met his needs for a full EMR with built-in HIPAA compliant video and outcome measures data collection, he founded Therapy App, a software platform designed specifically for mental health professionals. His goal through teletherapy and software development continues to be increased access to care for all people and improved outcomes in therapy.
Why did you start the group practice and what drew you to teletherapy?
Jeff joined a group practice some time ago and in 2010 started putting some good research out about teletherapy, finding the best practices and also finding out that there wasn’t a well-developed protocol already existing. In order to meet the needs of the practice, he needed to use two or three different software.
Starting a teletherapy group practice has also allowed Jeff to take on therapists remotely. As this lowers the cost too, he is able to give clinicians a better percentage. If you’re interested in making teletherapy your primary source of income, be aware that it took months of meetings and convincing the insurance companies that it was necessary for our clients.
How did you get the meetings with the insurance companies?
It took a lot of pushing and moving up the chain to get in a room with someone that was a decision-maker. Perseverance helped in the end by sending through many powerpoints, articles, research, loading the inbox, and phone calls.
What are you most proud of?
Jeff’s biggest success has been having the ability to have a bigger impact on the community and finding ways for people to access help where they previously had no way of accessing it. With teletherapy, there are no office hours, so it allows people to offer different hours for people that might not have been able to reach a normal practice in that time or location. Clients can also meet a licensed professional from the comfort of their home, especially for providing services to first responders who may not have wanted to be seen in a waiting room.
What marketing strategies do you use?
They’ve had to get creative as it is not your traditional private practice marketing. With telehealth, it’s not just about telling people that they’re in the community, it’s about understanding the effectiveness of teletherapy. Letting people know they are available has been a challenge. One of the strategies used is going into schools and letting the students know they don’t need to travel from school and back. Schools have given them a space in the school, they have provided an iPad and it has all alleviated time limits.
Jeff’s partner also has a background in websites and SEO so they have looked at where the searches are coming from and see who is needing these services so that they can target them. It’s about getting the name out there for people that are actually looking for them.
Speak to the people that already get it and see the value in it.
How do you attract staff?
There are many clinicians who have been doing traditional therapy and already see this as an opportunity to be more flexible in their work. Most have been open to the idea. They should be confident with the technology and be able to answer questions with their clients and have the knowledge to do so.
What about the data collection in the app?
At traditional therapy, there are usually 10 mins between a session, meaning time is limited. Being able to give someone a piece of paper and fill it out became difficult. With the software used in telehealth, they can assign digital assessments to their clients to provide realtime scores. That assessment is filled out 15mins before the session making it much easier for clinicians.
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Meet Alison Pidgeon
Alison is a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a 15 clinician group practice. She’s also a mom to three boys, wife, coffee drinker, and loves to travel. She started her practice in 2015 and, four years later, has two locations. With a specialization in women’s issues, the practices have made a positive impact on the community by offering different types of specialties not being offered anywhere else in the area.
Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016 and has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.
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Hi and welcome to the Grow a Group Practice podcast. My name is Alison Pidgeon and I am your host. Today, we have a great interview with a clinician named Jeff Schakowsky. He actually started a practice that is partly online but also partly brick and mortar, and he also designed his own software to do online therapy. I was super impressed when he explained to me all of the things that he did to get that up and going. But he also advocated at the state level to get his state to approve, to like encourage insurance companies to provide online therapy benefits to their members. And I was just really inspired by the lengths that he went to, to really advocate for clients to be able to have access to online telehealth services as well as, you know, he designed his own software, which I don’t even know where I would start with doing all of that. But he’s definitely an incredible guy doing a lot for our industry and I hope you enjoy this interview with Jeff.
Today on the podcast I have Jeff Chicoski. He has been in private practice for the past 10 years. He has founded something called Teletherapy Group, which is a hybrid teletherapy practice based in Portage, Michigan, he started that in 2016. After realizing that there wasn’t a software platform that met his needs for a full electronic medical record with built-in HIPAA-compliant video and outcome measures, data collection, he founded Therapy app, which is a software platform designed specifically for mental health professionals. His goal through teletherapy and software development continues to be increased access to care for all people and improved outcomes in therapy. Jeff, I’m so excited to have you on the podcast today. Welcome.
[JEFF]: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
[ALISON]: Yeah, so you have the honor of being my very first podcast interview.
[JEFF]: So, no pressure then.
[ALISON]: No pressure. So, let’s get into talking all about your group practice today. I thought we could start out by hearing a little bit more about why you started the group practice and then more specifically why you chose to focus on telehealth.
[JEFF]: Sure. So, in 2008, I joined a group practice in Kalamazoo and it was exclusively a brick and mortar practice. It was about 2010 where APA started putting out some pretty good research on teletherapy. And so I would quickly consume any research that I could find, I became very interested in doing teletherapy and it probably wasn’t until about 2014, 2015 I decided that I was going to call the American Psychological Association and speak to someone there about what they thought was best practice and how I might be able to incorporate it in my brick and mortar practice. And what I very quickly realized was that the laws and regulations, especially for the state of Michigan were pretty lax and wasn’t something that I felt completely comfortable with, and so there wasn’t really a well-developed protocol on how to do that. So, I consulted with the APA for just over a year before I felt comfortable with the procedures that I had put in place to do my own teletherapy practice. And so, in 2016 I started doing kind of just dipping my toe into doing teletherapy and trying to figure out what it was like.
And what I very quickly came to was that in order to meet my needs for my practice, I really needed to use maybe two or three different pieces of software which felt pretty cumbersome. And I needed an EMR system, I needed a video system and if the billing wasn’t incorporated in EMR, I needed that as well. And so, when I started meeting with clients one of the pieces of feedback that I got was it just kind of made it too cumbersome to be able to do two or three log-ins for them. And I started seeing just a few clients here and there in 2016 and really started making it a major part of my practice early or later on in 2016, early 2017. And my group practice wasn’t necessarily ready for a new thing to take on. We had been doing traditional brick and mortar for over 20 years and so I actually got permission at that point to kind of venture out on my own to do teletherapy exclusively.
So, I started Teletherapy Group where I started bringing clinicians on about a year after I started doing it individually. And the reason I did that is because I wanted to be able to train people adequately that I brought on with what best practice would be for teletherapy. And so, since that point, I’ve gone from an exclusive teletherapy practice to kind of more of a hybrid now just to meet the needs of people in the community and in the state.
[ALISON]: Okay, great. Yeah, that was one question that I did have for you about what is it like to have both kind of the brick and mortar location and the telehealth option. Do you think that is kind of the best of both worlds when it comes to running a group practice?
[JEFF]: In terms of a group practice, yes. I like having the space just in case folks need to come in or prefer to come in. And what I found by doing teletherapy is you can kind of slice it a number of ways. It can be served, it can be used as meeting with people more intermittently through teletherapy, it can be start to finish, especially in the state of Michigan. The way that the laws are written is we don’t have to do an intake session in-person like some of the states at this point still have to do. So, we can do start to finish teletherapy or like I said, we can have people come in and you know, let’s say eight inches of snow drop overnight. I still have the ability to see my clients instead of having to reschedule for maybe a couple of weeks from now or something like that. And then there are people and I suspect that there will always be people who just prefer brick and mortar, coming in and seeing someone in-person. And so, having a group practice where we can meet the needs of the community in various ways has been really helpful.
[ALISON]: Yeah, that’s great. I think it’s sort of like you said, the best of both worlds. So, what would you say in terms of percentage of your clientele is exclusively telehealth versus exclusively in-person? And maybe there’s some folks who are doing both?
[JEFF]: Sure. I would say around 30 to 40% are probably exclusively teletherapy and then about 30 or 40% are in-person exclusively. And then that kind of middle group is more of a hybrid in terms of seeing them sometimes in-person and sometimes using teletherapy. And it’s really allowed me to bring on clinicians that are remote and so they do exclusively teletherapy. So, I have therapists that are on the East side of Michigan, therapists who actually used to live in Michigan that live out of state and retain their Michigan licensure. And so, it really allows for them to be able to see people that were on their caseload but new clients that we’re bringing in to see them using the teletherapy services.
[ALISON]: Yeah, I’m glad that you explained that because that was one of my questions. Do you typically have the teletherapy sessions happening at the clinician’s home or are they doing that in the office or how do you have that structured?
[JEFF]: It’s more of what’s best for the client. So, if my clinician has a home office space that’s private that, we can assure our clients that they’re meeting with our therapists in a private location where they’re not going to be interrupted. It’s okay for them to use a home office. We do have office space here, like I said, so that our therapists, you know, if something were going on at their home or they didn’t have that private location that they could come in to be able to see their clients, that the clinicians that work exclusively remote have dedicated space at their homes to be able to see their clients.
[ALISON]: That’s great. So, I would imagine you find that really helps with your overhead if they’re working from home because rent tends to be one of the biggest expenses for a practice owner?
[JEFF]: Absolutely. Absolutely. It, it definitely keeps the cost lower, which allows me to give my therapist’s kind of a better percentage in terms of what they take in from their clients as well. Typically in private practice, it’s somewhere between kind of a 60, 40 split, 65, 35 or 70, 30. What we do for our clinicians is when they do teletherapy and they have existing clients that we’re able to give them a better percentage say around like 80%, just because the overhead is lower, and so it makes it actually more profitable for the therapist while they’re increasing access to care for people in the community. So, it’s really kind of been a win-win. My brick and mortar practice that I used to operate out of was kind of the Taj Mahal compared to what I have for the teletherapy practice. And that’s purposeful, just because I feel so passionate about meeting the needs of people in the community, but also people in lower income communities that typically might have, you know, a Medicaid insurance or something like that. So, it really allows us to keep costs down so that we can serve as many people as we possibly can.
[ALISON]: Yeah, that’s great. So, do you take some insurance or are you all private pay?
[JEFF]: No, we’re mostly insurance actually. So, the Midwest is kind of a different beast in terms of what we see around the country. Typically, in the Midwest, most clinicians accept insurance, if you start to hit the coast, the East, West coast maybe some places like Florida and Texas, they tend to be a heavily private pay market. But in Michigan costs are lower for space and I would say that most clinicians are almost expected to accept insurance.
[ALISON]: Yeah, that’s how it is where I am too. So, what is insurance in your area? What is their stance on paying for tele-medicine? Is that something that’s common or is it not common?
[JEFF]: Well, actually it’s been a long road. So, when we first started, to my knowledge, we were the first teletherapy, exclusively teletherapy practice on the state of Michigan. And we actually had to have meetings in-person with Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare to be able to explain to them what we were doing and how the research supports doing teletherapy and how effective it can be. And after several meetings, they agreed to pay us full fee actually for providing teletherapy services as opposed to doing in-person. So, we’ve had really good success in terms of getting insurance companies to cover the costs of people’s teletherapy sessions as well.
[ALISON]: Wow. That’s great. What we find in our area is that there’s kind of been a slow progression to cover. They call them virtual visits where we are, and as that’s becoming more common, I would say that it makes it an easier sell then for the clients to want to do teletherapy. But I would say when I started my practice almost five years ago now, it was much less common. And so, it was a much tougher sell for people to do teletherapy because they were obviously finding us because we were local to them. And then things would come up, like they’d have to travel for work or college students would have to go back to school or what have you. And we would say, “Oh great. We could still provide services for you. We have this teletherapy option.” And then we would find out that insurance wouldn’t pay for it. And so, then they didn’t want to do it. So, I think that’s sort of have been the challenge, in terms of my experience with teletherapy just with having you know, insurance not necessarily being willing to pay and then folks aren’t willing to use the service.
[JEFF]: Sure. And one of the suggestions that I would make is if somebody is really interested in pursuing teletherapy as their primary source of service would be to really advocate. It took us months to be able to get these meetings, to be able to convince the insurance companies that it was necessary for a lot of our clients. We’re reaching people who have had those traditional barriers for therapy that have prevented them from seeking service. And I don’t know if this is true in every state but in Michigan, we have a real shortage of mental health professionals that can serve people in our communities. I believe that there’s over 10 counties in the state of Michigan that don’t have a single psychiatrist or a licensed therapist that is serving the community other than maybe a county community mental health system which, you know, in recent years may have been losing funding or been in a remote area where there might not be as many clinicians. And so, it’s really allowed us to kind of reach those communities that are really underserved.
[ALISON]: Yeah, that’s great. So, it sounds like the insurance companies recognize that and that’s why they were willing to work with you?
[JEFF]: It took some work though. It certainly took some convincing and showing them the research and really explaining to them the platforms that we would be using and how they are HIPAA-compliant and would protect their clients or their users’ health information in a way that wouldn’t compromise confidentiality.
[ALISON]: So how did you get those meetings with those insurance companies? Because I feel like that would be a huge challenge.
[JEFF]: It was, and it required just kind of forcing the issue and trying to push kind of up that corporate chain to be able to get into a room with somebody who is a decision maker. They had a lot of systems put in place to be able to kind of shut us down in the beginning and so I think perseverance really pays off at some point because they probably got sick of us calling at some point.
[ALISON]: Yeah, I was going to say, was that sort of the final thing that helped you actually get that meeting, of just being annoying and you kept calling or was there something specific that you said that they finally decided, “Okay, we need to talk to these people?”
[JEFF]: Well, I started sending them PowerPoints of presentations and I started sending them journal articles and research and just kind of loading up their inbox and following up with phone calls. And so, I really do believe that they probably got sick of me at some point.
[ALISON]: You were persistent. That’s great. So, what would you say is your thing that you’re most proud of? You built up this kind of hybrid brick and mortar teletherapy practice, what would you say has been your biggest success?
[JEFF]: I would say that just having the ability to have a bigger impact on the community, just finding ways for people to access help that may have felt like they had no way of accessing help. One of the beauties of doing teletherapy is that there’s no real office hours for people who are willing or want to work maybe in the evenings or even late night. And so, if someone is going to a brick and mortar practice, they might not be able to be seen at 11 o’clock at night or if they work a different shift where it might not allow them to come in, teletherapy has really been a nice option. And so, we’ve been able to reach people with transportation issues even here locally. Kalamazoo is a pretty small town, but if you drive five minutes outside of Kalamazoo, you’re on a sheep farm. And so not everybody has access and transportation. Whether it be based on income or physical disability, it really allows people to meet with a licensed mental health professional from the comfort of their own home or any private place that they feel most comfortable. One of the really nice things we found and that I feel really proud of is providing services to first responders. Some of those folks might have hesitance to be able to come into an office and risk being seen, you know, in a waiting room or something like that. And so, first responders have responded really well to teletherapy just because they may have never had that option in the past.
[ALISON]: That’s great. And I think that you know, when you see that type of impact that you’re having on a community and like you said, people who may not have had access to care and now they do, I mean, it’s probably such a good feeling to see all your hard work pay off.
[JEFF]: Yeah, it’s been a long road. I think that it’s even still, we’re doing our best to educate people in the community than other professionals, that this is another way that people can access service.
[ALISON]: So that was one of my other questions about marketing. I imagine there’s probably different strategies for marketing the telehealth services as opposed to the in the office type services. So, what have you learned about marketing and how you have to do that differently?
[JEFF]: Sure. We’ve had to get pretty creative, just because it’s not just telling people that we’re in the community, that this is a thing. It’s about helping them understand the validity and the effectiveness, whether it be people in the community or whether it be other mental health professionals or other health professionals. Just letting know that we are available has been a challenge to be honest with you. It’s really important to have someone even in brick and mortar practice that knows SEO and internet analytics and to be able to market yourself that way, but also trying to get creative. Recently I did an interview for our local Channel 3 down here in Kalamazoo, that allowed me to kind of explain how we might be able to fill some of those gaps in coverage when it comes to the shortage of mental health professionals.
But in addition to that, one of the things that we have found to be really effective and really nice is going into let’s say like a school and letting the schools know that their students no longer have to be pulled from school, travel to my office, be seen for 50 minutes, travel back to school, and then be expected to go back to a classroom. That’s really difficult for a lot of people. So, what we’ve done is we’ve gone into schools and actually said, “You know, if you have enough people who are interested, what we might be able to do is put an iPad. If you could give us space in your school, what we can do is give you the means for your students to be able to meet with us so that they no longer have to have their parent maybe leave work and provide transportation and take as much time as it would take to come to someone’s office.”
So, it’s really, it’s been really nice that way. And going into let’s say like a nursing home and helping people understand that we can provide you the means to be able, for your patients to be able to be seen by a mental health professional has been great. One of the challenges is, especially in the rural areas, is being able to talk to some of those county health centers and community mental health systems and saying, “We understand that you are trying your best and that in most places you’re underfunded and we just want to be able to help in any way that we can.” And so, trying to take some of that overflow that might kind of fall through the cracks and by, no other reason than just having that shortage of mental health professionals just because there are so many good clinicians in the state of Michigan that are doing such good work. We just have too many people that want to access care that might not have the ability.
[ALISON]: So, it sounds like what’s important is educating people about the services, but then also giving people some creative ideas for how you can solve their pain point.
[JEFF]: Yeah. How do we make it easiest for everyone? How do we make it easiest for the clinician? How do we make it easiest for the client and the referring professional at that point? How do we make it so that it doesn’t feel cumbersome for them to be able to say, “Yes, there is this other thing that is an option for you.”?
[ALISON]: What have you done in terms of online marketing, SEO, maybe Google ads because obviously now you were marketing to the whole state of Michigan and not just the people in your local area within a half an hour driving distance of the office? So, what does that look like for you?
[JEFF]: Well, I’ve been very fortunate. My partner Trevor MacLeod, his background is in kind of web design, websites, so his familiarity with SEO has been off the charts. And so, what we can actually do is look at where these searches are coming from so, we can take a look at what communities really are in need and who is trying to seek these services and actually start marketing directly to those folks. So being able to kind of step into a community and do targeted marketing has been really helpful for us to be able to get our name out there to people who are actually looking for it. Just because what we found is that there are early adopters and then there are people who are hesitant to try it out. And one of the mistakes, and probably the mistake that I made early on was really trying to convince the naysayers. And what I’ve found is that I’m much more effective when speaking to people who already kind of get it and understand that it could provide some value and take them on as early adopters and to be able to build those relationships. Because I think that eventually, even the people who are hesitant or may not get it right away will see that it’s being done in an effective way and be more likely in the future to either recommend services or to be open to doing it themselves.
[ALISON]: So, it’s much more effective to focus on the people who are somewhat open to it and then try to further educate them about the benefits of the services rather than the people who are totally against it? That’s a lost cause for you.
[JEFF]: Well, no. I hope it’s not a lost cause because at the end of the day, my passion really is being able to increase access to care. And I think that with any newer idea, there are some people who are late adopters. That doesn’t mean that they will always be closed off to it. It’s just challenges the norm. And I think that helping people understand that there’s a really good way to do it while maintaining privacy and data storage and security might just take a little bit longer to be honest with you. So, not a lost cause by any means. Hopefully in the future it will be seen as something that is just a normal way of accessing services. I don’t anticipate that it will and I wouldn’t want it to ever replace traditional therapy. I just think that it’s an additional asset that we have the ability to do now.
[ALISON]: So, I’m curious about attracting staff to come work for you. What has been the kind of feedback from them? Like are they all on board with teletherapy and they’re excited and they’re ready to go or some of them not so sure about it and you have to do more education to get them on board? What’s that been like in terms of employing other staff?
[JEFF]: It’s been really nice up to this point. I think that there are clinicians who maybe have been doing traditional practice for a long time that see this as an opportunity for them to be able to be more flexible within their role as a therapist. And so, the clinicians that I’ve brought on to my group practice have really been open to the idea. I never want people to step outside of their comfort zone to do something that they feel uncomfortable with. We have had some therapists who don’t really understand how it works, which is fine. I think that we do our best to be able to train people adequately so that they feel confident with the software that they’re using, some of the differences that present themselves in therapy and to be able to answer the questions from the technology side or the informed consent side or matters to deal with privacy when it comes to their clients. So, providing them that knowledge I think allows them to feel more comfortable when they do start out.
[ALISON]: Great. I know you said in the therapy app that you started, you have some data collection as part of that and you felt like that was something that was a little different maybe from other group practices. Can you tell us more about this, the data collection piece?
[JEFF]: Sure. This is something that I would also say that I’m proud of. It’s really come a long way. When I was in brick and mortar practice, one of the shortcomings for me was, you know, if I have let’s say 10 minutes between a session and I give someone a PHQ-9 or a GAD-7 before a session, my time is really limited. And so being able to give someone a pencil and paper assessment to fill out, score that assessment and actually do something with that data proved to be very difficult. And so when I started Therapy app, which is, the software company, one of the things that we felt very passionately about was being able to provide the means for clinicians to be able to assign digital assessments to their clients and have the system score and analyze that data for them and provide them real time feedback for their clients so that they can make informed decisions in the therapy that they’re providing.
So, with my software, what it actually does is that it allows clinicians to assign outcome measures at whatever intervals that they would like, whether it be every session or every other session. And then when their client logs into the app, it prompts them to complete that assessment. So, what ends up happening is that that assessment is filled out, let’s say 15 minutes before the session, and then it immediately appears on my screen with the score from the assessment and the actual digital assessment that they filled out. So, I can actually go through, let’s say like a PHQ-9 and see if they endorse number nine on a PHQ-9 before I meet with them. So it really informs the therapy that I do, but also it allows me to take data from not only my work as an individual therapist, but I can look at the data for my entire group, which is really nice to be able to say that our numbers indicate that people are making progress in therapy. And it really allows us to be able to take that in and almost use that as marketing as well to be able to tell people these are the numbers that we’re showing and we’re showing effectiveness with our clients and the community.
[ALISON]: I think that’s so important, especially for, obviously you want to know if your clients are getting better. But I think insurance companies also really want to see that kind of data to see how effective you are as a therapist in terms of, you could probably then say like within 12 sessions or within 15 sessions, there was a significant decrease in symptoms or whatever it is that you’re able to tell from your assessments.
[JEFF]: And I’m glad you brought that up because I think in the future it probably will be required of us to some degree. And so, we’re really trying to get out ahead of the curve to be able to do this in a way that doesn’t feel cumbersome for the therapists so that when the time does come or insurance companies might start requiring us to do outcome measures that we have the ability to do that. And that’s not a disruption to our businesses or our practices.
[ALISON]: That’s great. And I like how it’s all automated too, because then you don’t have to think about it. Like you said, you might have in the past had like paper and pencil and then you had to file it and score it and it’s like all just happening on the front end without you having to do much in terms of making that happen.
[JEFF]: Yeah, and then even if you do have the ability to score it, it almost seems like then what do you do with it? And unless you have maybe interns or people that are employees that might have the time to be able to do that, it just really becomes cumbersome to start collecting and analyzing that data. So, we wanted to make the system as easy as possible, incorporated all into one so that therapists can do what they do best, which is providing therapy to their clients. It’s really trying to minimize the business side of it just because most of us were never trained in the business aspects of therapy.
[JEFF]: So, if we can help kind of solve some of those problems that maybe people weren’t even aware that they had, that’s our goal; is just to be able to have clinicians provide mental health services without having to worry about all the other stuff.
[ALISON]: Right. I’m curious, Jeff, because you are so involved in telehealth and advocating and creating, you know, this new type of practice, especially in the state of Michigan. What do you think, excuse me? What do you think is the future of telehealth?
[JEFF]: I think that it’s an emerging field and I think that when people start to realize that it’s being done effectively, I think that we have the ability to really reach a population of people who have been hesitant to seek services or just thought that there were too many barriers in place. And so, I think that, or my hope is that we continue to improve the numbers of people who need services but just don’t have access. I know it sounds like kind of a simple concept, but at the end of the day there are just too many people that feel stuck and that need help that maybe don’t feel like they have an outlet to be able to do that.
[ALISON]: So as you were feeling that more and more insurance companies are going to cover it, more and more people are going to learn about telehealth and be more open to using that type of service, do you think that eventually in the future everything is going to be telehealth and there’s going to be no more in-person therapy?
[JEFF]: No, I definitely think that there will be in-person therapy. You know, it’s kind of like the digital media versus print. I don’t think that there will ever be doing away with traditional therapy, nor would I want that to be the case. I still enjoy to this day doing individual work with people in person. I just feel that as more people start to learn that this is a potential asset to their community, and that it can be done safely, then that’s the key. It’s we have a real opportunity to do this the right way and we have a real opportunity to do this the wrong way. And as long as we’re doing it the right way, I think that people can start to feel more comfortable with it. And once it becomes more of a household idea that people who have been seen using teletherapy will recommend it to others and be more open to it.
I think that what’s prevented a lot of clinicians from kind of jumping into it is they might not know how to get started or it might feel intimidating with, you know, some of the software that they’re being required to use. And so my goal overall has been to increase care, but also to make things easier on the therapist end and to help them understand that it is not as cumbersome as one might think and that if you have software that’s intuitive and kind of, for lack of a better term, kind of dummy-proofed that we can do it without having to worry about it being something that is going to completely change our practice or the way that we provide therapy to our clients.
[ALISON]: One question that I get all the time, Jeff, is about people that want to start their own telehealth practice, both, either just a solo practice or group practice. So, what advice would you have for them in terms of getting started?
[JEFF]: Yeah, so I think the first piece of it is really educating themselves on what it is. It’s not just as simple as kind of opening your computer and turning on your video. It’s learning the differences in informed consent and privacy and how data flows. And I think that that is something that goes kind of untalked about just because we tend to place a lot of trust in the software companies that we’re using. But at the end of the day, knowing how those companies operate and how they transmit data or if they’re selling information to third parties that education piece is really important so that when our clients are hesitant or they do have questions, that we can answer those adequately and make them feel safer and more comfortable about getting service. But if somebody is starting a teletherapy practice, it’s, I would say it’s probably more difficult if somebody were just coming out of school rather than an established therapist.
If you’re an established therapist, I think it’s a pretty natural and easy transition to be able to let people know, “I have this way for us to meet and we will be meeting remotely, but this is how we’re going to do it. I’m going to show you how to use the software and then go from there.” I think that if you’re starting a group practice or an individual practice, when it comes to teletherapy, is reaching out to your local community first to say this is an option, especially for those who have built a reputation for themselves so that they can start to introduce their local community to teletherapy. On the flip side, if you want to go bigger and you want to reach out to let’s say an entire state, having someone who is knowledgeable in SEO and kind of some targeted marketing is really most effective just because when you start to look at who’s searching for teletherapy services, it’s pretty incredible the numbers of people who are trying to access help.
[ALISON]: So, in terms of the research piece that you were talking about, is there a specific training that you think is really good if a clinician is not very educated about teletherapy?
[JEFF]: In terms of like an individual endorsement, probably not. But when it comes to learning more about teletherapy, starting to look at some of the research that has come out of APA, the APA guidelines, I believe there are 10 guidelines for APA in terms of how to do teletherapy. Some of them are more vague, but if you are an APA member, they wouldn’t be upset for you to contact them and to ask as many questions as you want so that you can feel more comfortable because this is something that the APA supports. They found that in the research it is effective. So being able to talk to an attorney is important to be able to get an informed consent written that really describes kind of some of the differences in data security and transmission is important so that when we talk to our clients we can explain some of the potential downsides as to doing anything online.
[ALISON]: Okay. Great. So, it sounds like the APA is definitely a good place to start.
[JEFF]: Absolutely. And I know that you know, like Marlene Maheu, at the Telemental Health Institute has been doing it for a long time and so that there are resources on their website that would be helpful for people as well.
[ALISON]: Okay. Wonderful. Well, I really appreciate the time that you spent with us today, Jeff. I feel like this is such a big topic. We could talk about this for a long time, but we are running out of time. I wanted to make sure people knew how to get ahold of you if they were interested in learning more about what you’re doing, especially with the software that you’ve developed. And I also understand that you have a giveaway for the audience as well.
[JEFF]: Sure. And I also, Alison, I want to thank you for allowing me to be your first guest and I feel very honored and fortunate that you have me.
[ALISON]: Oh, absolutely.
[JEFF]: If people are interested in reaching out, I’d be happy to talk to anyone. Like I said, this is a passion of mine, and this is how I plan to spend the rest of my career. And so, if people were interested in reaching out, I would love that. My personal or my work email is firstname.lastname@example.org, therapy app, like app home (dot) com. And our website for the software is therapyapphome.com. And the giveaway that I’d like to offer to people is if you are interested in doing teletherapy and you’re interested in taking a look at therapy app as a software provider that I would do an individual training with your practice and continue to consult on best practice and teletherapy just because my goal is really to, like I said, increase access. And so, whether it be somebody in rural Montana or New York City, I think that it’s an effective way of doing things. And so, I would love to be able to consult and offer people any knowledge that I have for free. To be honest, it’s just a way that I think it can be helpful for as many people as we can reach.
[ALISON]: That’s awesome. Jeff, thank you so much for giving that away and I might be calling you.
[JEFF]: I would love that.
[ALISON]: For my own practice.
[JEFF]: Be prepared. I tend to ramble so.
[ALISON]: Well, thank you so much Jeff, for joining us today and yeah, thanks for being the first podcast guest.
[JEFF]: Thank you so much and I appreciate it.
[ALISON]: So when I stopped recording with Jeff, he messaged me later and said that he wanted to make sure I mentioned that if people are interested in getting some support through the American Psychological Association to figure out how to implement telehealth in their own practice, he said that definitely join and become a member because it is worthwhile. And I believe he said that you don’t necessarily have to be a psychologist to join the APA. If you are a master’s level clinician, you can join as well. So, he said that that was a great resource for him when he was getting started, figuring out how to implement telehealth in his own practice.
So again, I want to thank Jeff for being on the podcast today. He got me thinking too about my own practice and maybe encouraging my own clinicians to do more telehealth sessions at home because if they do that, I can increase my volume of sessions without necessarily adding a whole lot more overheads, so I don’t have to go and rent more office space, but they are able to do more sessions. So, definitely got my wheels turning as well and I really enjoyed speaking with Jeff.
So, hope you have a great day and I’ll see you next time.
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