Telemedicine Platforms: Navigating the Options for Therapists

Kelly Hopper

Kelly Hopper

Kelly is a Chicago-based writer with an educational background in mass communication, digital content marketing, and creative writing. Her 20 years as a business owner and operations consultant provides unique insights through storytelling and brand journalism techniques.

Telehealth has been around since 1879. However, it took a worldwide pandemic to thrust the ever-evolving service into the mainstream of healthcare, especially in the field of mental health. It’s out there, it’s beneficial, and according to experts, it’s here to stay. 

Whether you have an existing business or are just starting a therapy practice, telehealth is essential to your success as a mental health professional. Help your clients by finding the right telemedicine platform for your private practice. 

Female therapist on a video call with her patient

Telehealth vs. telemedicine vs. telecare 

There is a fine line between the terms telehealth, telemedicine, and telecare. Many providers use the terms interchangeably, but there are distinct differences.

  • Telehealth is an all-encompassing term referring to the broader scope of remote healthcare services, including non-clinical services.
  • Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, including online therapy sessions.
  • Telecare relates to the technology used to monitor patients in their own homes, such as mobile monitoring devices. 

Is telehealth worth the trouble?

Mental healthcare has emerged as one of the most common applications of telemedicine, and it is not surprising. In 2019, 113 million Americans lived in a mental health professional shortage area. A poll conducted in March 2020 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of adults say that COVID-19 has affected their mental health, with 19% saying it has had a “major impact.”

Online therapy company Talkspace said that its new user count nearly doubled between mid-March and May 1, 2020, CNBC reported. Experts predict a flood of mental-health problems approaching: anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

Telemedicine benefits for counselors

  • Reach an underserved population
  • Decrease cancellations and no shows
  • Increase revenue and flexibility
  • Efficiency gains
  • Ability to treat more clients

Telemedicine benefits for patients

  • Convenience and comfort
  • Potential lower cost
  • Reduced wait times
  • Better commitment to regular care
  • Stay engaged in their treatment

Types of telemedicine platforms for counselors

The sheer volume of telemedicine software available is mind-boggling. It’s easy to feel confused with so many services and price options, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Let’s break it all down. 

Two basic options are available when purchasing telemedicine software:

  • Standalone platforms offer a piecemeal approach, allowing you to pick and choose which software best fits your needs. The types of software available address three primary areas of operation: electronic health records, practice management and billing, and teletherapy.
  • Suite platforms provide a wholly integrated software system, including the three platforms mentioned above.  

Standalone software for your private practice

Telemedicine continually evolves as technological advancements provide new ways of delivering care to patients. As a result, there are many software options available to efficiently and effectively deliver services to patients. 

These software options fall under three types: electronic health records (EHR), practice management (PR), and real-time/teletherapy.

Focusing on the programs tailored toward mental and behavioral healthcare, let’s take a look at the types and some of the standalone and suite applications available.

1. Electronic health record (EHR) or electronic medical record (EMR) software

Electronic health record or electronic medical record software is the foundation of your telehealth system. It replaces the paper chart system with digital documentation, giving you access to records in the office and remotely. This software also allows counselors to quickly share information with other healthcare providers and their patients as needed.

Automation is an essential part of running your practice, and medical records are not a place you want to forgo utilizing technology. Paper is quickly becoming extinct, and you don’t want to get on a sinking boat by implementing an archaic system of record keeping. EHR software is a must-have as it allows you to integrate all other software platforms. The cost typically ranges from $85 to $635 per subscription per month, and the software provides: 

  • Standalone EHRs or EMRs
  • Access to patient records in real-time
  • Basic scheduling
  • HIPAA compliance
  • Basic patient portal functionality

Practice Fusion is a cloud-based EHR software that offers patient scheduling, charting, and voice recognition. The solution allows providers to order labs or imaging and receive results directly within your EHR while giving the convenience of e-prescribing. The company reports that the application is suitable for mental health private practices of all sizes, although it seems more suited to those who write a lot of prescriptions and order lab work. The cost starts at $99 per user per month and offers a free trial. 

CareCloud charts provide real-time intelligence to providers at the point of care, which delivers critical clinical decision support capabilities. The cloud-based EHR includes practice management and patient portal integration, patient summaries, rapid charting with flexible options, configurable templates, initiative reporting, and drag-and-drop scheduling. Cost starts at $279 per user per month.

2. Practice management (PM) software 

If EMRs are the backbones, practice management (PM) is the lifeblood. This software streamlines principal administration duties and office work in your operation. It automates processes such as organizing appointments and scheduling specific tasks. Patient data, like names, demographics, insurance coverage, and contact information, can be quickly stored and accessed.

PM tracks, manages, and optimizes financial and administrative processes. You’ll find various levels of medical billing software as well. Many PM systems have add-ons available for more in-depth insurance billing that provides coding, error checking, and follow-up of claims. It’s like having an assistant — you will save you hours of administrative work so you can focus on your clients.

Many companies offer this platform in combination with EHR/EMR programs, and the cost runs $35-150 per month per subscription. Some of the features of this platform include:

  • Standalone practice management software
  • Scheduling
  • Patient eligibility
  • Appointment reminders
  • Patient demographics, insurance, and account history
  • Code billing and invoicing

My Clients Plus PM offers 200 templates and multi-user access to your account. The in-depth revenue and metric reports and to-do lists help you prioritize communications. Plus, this PM software generates invoices and processes credit cards. The cost runs $24.95 per month per user for the first provider.

CentralReach practice management software offers patient intake, waitlist management, time management, billing system set-up, and payment tracking. Contact the software provider for a custom quote. 

3. Teletherapy live video conferencing software

Teletherapy software is the most crucial telemedicine platform for counselors, and it’s affordable. You can pay by the month or per session. One provider even offers the bare bones for free. Common features consist of: 

  • A virtual platform using email, messaging, and video conferencing
  • Integrations with EHR or PM software
  • Personalized waiting room 

Doxy.me is a secure and straightforward telemedicine software app for desktop, Android, or iOS devices. There’s no software to download or configure, and it can integrate with popular EHR or PM software. It is free to use for unlimited messages, voice, and video communications. Doxy.me costs $35 per month for the professional tier.

Telemedicine suites for counselors

All-inclusive suites have everything you need to start a private practice. Suites will eliminate the hassle of putting a system in place piece by piece and save you time by having only one company to deal with. From one spot, you can:

  • Create, store, and review patient records. 
  • Manage appointments, log notes, treatment plans, and medical histories. 
  • File claims electronically and track claim progress.

Most solutions even allow for several different billing functions. Telemedicine platforms for counselors combine all of the features of standalone products into one system. HIPAA-compliant systems provide: 

  • Appointment scheduling and reminders
  • Claims management
  • Compliance tracking
  • Initial assessments/intake
  • Medical billing
  • Single and multi-provider practice
  • Self-service portal
  • Treatment plans
  • Client portals/apps
  • Credit card processing (fees average 2.6% per transaction)

SimplePractice is an all-in-one suite tailored to meet a counselor’s needs. Digital intake is available along with auto payments, mobile app, booking widget for your website, custom templates, invoicing, and billing.

SimplePractice pricing runs $59.00 per month per user for the professional plan. The company offers a 30-day free trial and unlimited video conferencing add-ons for $10 per month. Get insurance electronic claim filing and payment reporting for 25 cents per transaction.

TheraNest is a full-service platform offering live phone support, client portal with client self-scheduling, customizable intake forms, insurance billing, and electronic claims filing. The integrated credit card processing allows you to store and charge cards, while a batch payments feature provides accessible payment collection. 

This platform includes a comprehensive knowledge base with articles, videos, and on-demand training. Android and iPhone mobile apps are also available. Pricing runs $39 per month per user up to 30 clients. 

How to select telemedicine platforms for counselor use

  • Determine your feature requirements. List all the functions required for your private practice. Think about current challenges and try to anticipate how your needs might change as your practice grows. 
  • Read product reviews and try a free demo. See what other counselors say about capability and ease of use. Play around with the program to make sure it’s user friendly. 
  • Test out customer service channels. Call their customer support line and navigate online service options. Doing so gives you a feel for typical hold times and an idea about the platform’s self-service options. 

The COVID-19 outbreak shined a light on a solution to a problem that has existed for a long time, especially in the mental healthcare field. It’s no longer a question of how beneficial this technology can be to patients and practitioners. Using telemedicine platforms for counselors will help you grow your business, mainline your practice, and invoice clients and insurance companies with ease. With these time-saving features, you can focus on marketing your psychology private practice and reach more people who need your services.

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