Online Clinical Practice Management
(OCPM): Training and Support
Mental health professionals see that innovation through technology is inevitable and can greatly enhance the delivery of mental health care, as well as general health care. With the new wave of technologies being developed for health care, practitioners have many choices to make. Trainees need to know the basics of using a computer and how to use the Internet. They particularly need to know how to use new mental health care tools, adapt existing tools, and avoid problems with procedures and assessment tools used offline. The psychotechnologies offer many new opportunities to those practitioners who use them wisely.
It is tempting to plunge into an online clinical practice—freed of office expenses, rigid office hours, and the obligatory professional garb. Supporters of online clinical practice —that is, remote therapeutic conversation with a patient—think that it will allow mental health practitioners to access individuals who need treatment and who are reluctant to initiate or sustain in-person psychotherapy. Venturing into online (e-mail and chat room, telephone, or video) dialogues with patients may provide interesting shortcuts and lead to unexplored areas. Depending on the technology chosen, online dialogues may also provide the convenience of relative anonymity.
As the use of information technology becomes more prevalent, the solo mental health practitioner may unknowingly invite legal woes (Pies, 2002). As described in earlier chapters, there are many online pitfalls. Professionals wary of online clinical practice see (hear) it as a siren song, luring the eager adventurer into peril. They point to the risks to licensed and regulated professionals in working outside the current standards of practice. Even though these doubters believe that exploring new paths is essential to the profession's growth, they think that such exploration should be left to researchers before delivering services to patients. Without institutional review boards considering dangers and setting limits, overzealous clinicians may inadvertently harm their patients and face malpractice lawsuits. The probability of a lawsuit is low when a clinician has a good relationship with a patient, but it may be higher because online clinical practice entails emotional distance and introduces added distortion. Of course, readers outside the highly litigious United States may find the latitude for informal experimentation with patients to be broader.