Practice Guidelines for Videoconferencing-Based Telemental Health

Practice Guidelines for Videoconferencing-Based Telemental Health (October 2009)
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Published October 2009

Telemental health is one of the most active applications of telehealth rendered in the United States. Mental health is particularly suited to the use of advanced communication technologies and the internet for delivery of care. By using advanced communication technologies, mental health professionals are able to widen their reach to patients in a cost-effective manner, ameliorating the maldistribution of specialty care. The following Guidelines are designed to aid in the development and practice of coherent, effective, safe and sustainable telemental health practices. Establishing guidelines for telemental health improves clinical outcomes and promotes informed and reasonable patient expectations. When guidelines, position statements, or standards from a professional organization or society such as (but not limited to) the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association or National Association of Social Workers exist, it is advised that mental health professionals review these documents and incorporate them into practice. 

Telemental health, like telemedicine, is an intentionally broad term referring to the provision of mental health and substance abuse services from a distance. This guideline focuses on two-way, interactive videoconferencing as the modality by which telemental health services are provided.  In the future, additional sections will be added to address the use of the internet and other asynchronous or social relationship environments for interactions between mental health professionals and their patients and families.  The use of other modern technologies such as virtual reality, electronic mail, remote monitoring devices (home telehealth store and forward technology), chat rooms, and web-based clients are not included in this version of the telemental health guidelines. 

The ATA provides the core standards for telemedicine operations and provides overarching guidance for administrative, clinical, and technical standards. The Practice Guidelines for Videoconferencing-Based Telemental Health covers all areas, reflecting the basic component processes associated with most telemental health consultations. The telemental health guidelines give further detail to these core standards in relation to the specialty area.  This section of the guideline contains requirements, recommendations, or actions that are identified by text containing the keywords “shall,” “should,” or “may.”  “Shall” indicates that it is required whenever feasible and practical under local conditions.  “Should” indicates an optimal recommended action that is particularly suitable, without mentioning or excluding others.“May” indicates additional points that may be considered to further optimize the telemental health care process.   

A glossary of terms, references to literature, and informative web sites are included at the end of the document.