Psychology via Telehealth Benefits

What is telehealth/ telepsychology?

Telehealth means virtual access to healthcare, whereby people can speak with a health care professional either by phone or video call. Access to Telehealth is growing rapidly, with over 30 million telehealth consultations provided in Australia in 2020. The process of accessing psychology services via telehealth is often referred to as ‘telepsychology’. Psychologists have been providing telehealth services long before the COVID 19 pandemic, however, telepsychology has increased significantly in popularity in recent times.

In recognising the benefits of online healthcare, an increasing number of psychologists have moved to telepsychology. Unlike other health professionals (e.g. physiotherapists or podiatrists), a psychologist does not need to physically examine a client. Their practice is therefore not interfered with by the absence of face-to-face contact. Indeed, research has shown telepsychology to be as effective as in-person psychological services. 

The Australian Government acknowledges the many benefits of telehealth and Medicare funding for online psychology services has recently increased. Seeing a psychologist online is now easier than ever before and provides both convenience and affordability. 

 

Telepsychology and COVID 19

 

Telehealth Psychology what you need to know Telehealth Psychology what you need to know Infographic

Access to telepsychology has increased in response to the COVID 19 pandemic. The Australian government now supports all Australians with a Medicare card to access telepsychology, in order to reduce physical contact and the risk of the spread of COVID 19. These measures have been implemented to protect patients, health care workers and the broader population. 

The Medicare rebate for telepsychology is the same as face-to-face psychology sessions, regardless of your place of residence. Previously, rebates for telehealth were only available to people living in select regional and remote geographic locations. However, Medicare recently discarded these geographic restrictions, and Australians from metro areas, as well as regional and remote areas, are now supported to access psychology services online.

 

Who can access telepsychology?

All Australians with a referral from their doctor are currently eligible to access telepsychology and receive a medicare rebate. The geographic location of residence no longer matters, with Australians in major cities able to access the same rebates for telehealth services as those in rural and remote locations.

 

Will telepsychology funding continue after COVID 19?

Currently, all Australians with a Medicare card can see a psychologist online and receive a Medicare rebate. Prior to COVID 19, however, telepsychology was only available to those living in select regional and remote areas. The Australian Government has not commented on the longevity of this increased funding and it is unclear whether the current Medicare rebates for telepsychology specifically, and telehealth, in general, will continue longer-term. Updates are available via the Australian Government Digital Health website (digitalhealth.gov.au). Our friendly staff also remain up to date with Medicare changes and are more than happy to answer your questions.

 

What are the benefits of seeing a psychologist online?

Telepsychology offers several benefits, such as:

  • Increased access to services. Telepsychology reduces barriers to accessing psychological services, particularly for those with physical, medical, or mobility impairments, limited time, and limited access to transport. Further, some mental health conditions, like PTSD or agoraphobia, make leaving the home to access treatment difficult. Telepsychology offers support to those suffering from these conditions, who would otherwise not seek help. 
  • Increased choice of therapists. Sometimes people may like to see a couple of therapists to find the best fit. Previously, the choice of therapists was limited to those practising within your geographic area. Now, with telepsychology, your choice of therapists is not confined to your local area and finding the right therapist may be easier as a result.
  • Increased access to specialist care. For certain presentations (e.g. eating disorders, substance use) seeing a psychologist who specialises in that area may be beneficial. Telepsychology enables people to access specialist care which may previously have only been available in major cities.
  • Increased likelihood of continued care. Changing therapists can be destabilising and stressful. A frequent concern we hear from clients, particularly in small regional towns, is that therapist turnover is high and therapists regularly leave. With telehealth, the location of your therapist is irrelevant. Even if you or your therapist move, your treatment can continue without interruption.
  • Increased flexibility. Telehealth has resulted in increased hours of service. We are now able to offer after-hours appointments, including evening sessions, as therapists can dial in from their own homes.
  • Increased comfort and convenience. Telepsychology enables people to access therapy from the comfort of their own home or preferred private location. This saves travel time and the stress associated with getting to and from face-to-face appointments.
  • Reduced waiting time. Often psychologists have long waitlists, meaning the time between seeking support and your initial appointment can be significant. With access to a greater number of therapists and more flexible appointment times, there are often much shorter wait times associated with telepsychology.
  • Increased affordability. Gap charges for telepsychology are often lower than those for in-person psychology services. Further, some telehealth practices offer bulk-billing for psychology services, meaning they can be more cost-effective for consumers.
 

Telepsychology and Medicare rebates

To obtain a Medicare rebate for psychology services, you need to have a Mental Health Care Plan from your GP. We suggest you request a longer appointment with your family doctor to discuss your concerns and complete the Mental Health Care Plan with them. 

We understand that the Medicare system can be confusing and many people have a hard time wrapping their head around it. Our friendly staff are well versed in Medicare and are happy to answer any questions or queries you may have. To make things clear, we will also send you an email prior to every appointment, which details your psychologist’s fees and the Medicare rebate you are eligible for. 

The Medicare rebate for psychology services is dependent on 1) the length of your session, and 2) whether you have seen a clinical or registered psychologist. Medicare rebates are higher for clinical psychologists. If your psychologist bulk-bills, Medicare rebates not relevant, as there are no out of pocket expenses.

You can learn more about Medicare rebates online via the Medicare Benefits Scheme website (www.mbsonline.gov.au) or, give us a call to discuss the topic with our friendly staff.

 

Reasons to consider telepsychology

There are several possible reasons for seeking psychological support, and these are unlikely to differ based on the mode of delivery. People engage with telepsychology for the same reasons as engaging with a psychologist in person. Among the most common reasons include problems with anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction, stress, grief and relationships. 

Difficulties in life can be seen on a spectrum, from tolerable to overwhelming and unmanageable. Regardless of the perceived intensity of your problem, if you are experiencing any discontent, distress or impairment in functioning, you are likely to benefit from telepsychology. In other words, things don’t have to be falling apart before you seek help.

Mental health is a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community  

                                                The World Health Organisation (WHO)

From this, we can see that mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness. A lack of fulfilment and desire to live a more full, rich and meaningful life is also a valid reason to consider telepsychology.

 

What do I need to access a telepsychology session?

Speaking with a telehealth psychologist can occur either via video or phone call. We encourage our clients to dial in using video, as most would agree it provides a better therapy experience. 

Clients are often better able to communicate how they are feeling if their therapist can see them. Such as their gestures, posture, and facial expressions they produce. Similarly, therapists can better convey empathy and shared understanding back to clients if they are visible to them. Access to non-verbal cues can facilitate a sense of connectedness between the client and therapist, which is essential for positive treatment outcomes.

Video calls for telepsychology can be made via your smartphone, tablet or computer. Prior to your appointment, our team will send you a detailed email containing a link to access your session. We use web platforms, such as Zoom and Skype, to provide telepsychology sessions.

You will need a private space where you won’t be interrupted during the session. We ask that clients dial in from a quiet room to protect their privacy. Further, to minimise distractions that may interfere with therapy. Clients will also need a reliable internet connection (e.g. Wifi, Broadband, 4G Mobile Network) to ensure the session runs smoothly.

We kindly ask our clients to test their internet connection prior to a video call. If there are issues connecting to the session, one of our friendly team members can provide assistance over the phone. 

 

How do I book a telepsychology appointment?

We recommend you call and speak to one of our friendly members of staff. Our team can answer any questions you have and assist you in finding the right psychologist. You don’t need a GP referral to give us a call or make an enquiry.  

If you have a referral, send it to us via email or have your GP clinic send it via fax. We suggest you follow up with a phone call to confirm we have received your GP referral. Once we have the referral, we will make an appointment for you with one of our experienced psychologists. You will receive confirmation and the details of your appointment via both email and SMS.