Know your lane. Stay within the scope of your practice. Build a strong referral network so that if you are not the best one to serve a particular client, you can give that client additional options to choose from within your referral network.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is the dramatic growth of Telehealth and Telemedicine. But how can doctors and providers best care for their patients when they are not physically in front of them? What do doctors wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office? How can Telehealth approximate and even improve upon the healthcare that traditional doctors’ visits can provide?
In this interview series, called “Telehealth Best Practices; How To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You” we are talking to successful Doctors, Dentists, Psychotherapists, Counselors, and other medical and wellness professionals who share lessons and stories from their experience about the best practices in Telehealth. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewingDr. Supriya Blair.
Dr. Supriya Blair is a licensed clinical psychologist in New York State. She is the founder of Dr. Blair Psychology, LLC, a holistic telehealth therapy practice. Dr. Blair helps clients refine, define, and tune into their health and wellness needs via mental health therapy, mindfulness training, and establishing self-care practices.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you! Well, my first career choice as a young kid was to be a cashier! I remember loving the authority with which cashiers would “press all of the buttons.” When that didn’t work out, I settled on psychology. I am fortunate to say that I knew I wanted to pursue psychology as a career path since I was about 14 years old. I’ve always been drawn to people and intrigued by their stories. From a young age, I’ve garnered a sense of meaning when supporting others.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I started my independent private practice in January 2020. Two months later, I converted my practice to telehealth literally overnight due to Covid-19. March 17, 2020, — I remember the exact date; that was the last time I saw a client in-person!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite life quotes/adages is a simple one: stay in your own lane. This is really important as a person and a professional because no one has the same dreams as you, the same wishes for the world, and no one can do what you can do in the unique way you do it. That’s what makes our lane/our journey/our service to others special.
This quote has been particularly relevant when I’ve experienced self-doubt or uncertainty about the road ahead.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am very grateful to all of my teachers throughout schooling. School was a place where I felt confident and really blossomed. My teachers believed in me and my potential. It made such a difference; I was taken seriously as a student and my questions were answered thoughtfully.
Graduate school was amazing in the sense that I really delved into psychology, human behavior, and facilitating change! I have been able to integrate my professors’ respective wisdoms and feel really fortunate to have had them as leaders, mentors, teachers, and now, friends and colleagues.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how doctors treat their patients. Many doctors have started treating their patients remotely. Telehealth can of course be very different than working with a patient that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity because it allows more people access to medical professionals, but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a patient in front of you?
Sure. For mental health therapy, one main benefit of having a patient or client in front of you is picking up on non-verbal language/behavior, as well as other sensory input (e.g., assessing hygiene, gait, possible nervous behavior, shallow breathing).
Another main benefit of having a client in front of you is the more personal bedside manner in which you greet the individual and/or bring them back to the waiting room. Those interactions, however small they may appear, can help clients feel safer and ease into their session with you.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a patient is not in the same space as the doctor?
The main challenge I’ve noticed as a psychologist is the additional trust we place in clients to be truthful. We cannot see what we cannot see, and as such, our trained eyes even more-so rely on a client’s accurate description and honesty in presenting facts.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Convey the importance of honest dialogue and collaboration between provider and client. I have found that building good rapport with a client helps facilitate that honest dialogue, in which clients are forthcoming about their challenges and roadblocks toward making behavioral changes.
- I tell new clients that it likely will take 3–4 sessions to become comfortable meeting through telehealth and getting to know me, the healthcare provider, who is virtually a stranger. This makes a difference in easing a client into the telehealth format and normalizing that it might not click right away! To the extent we are able, providing alternative options (e.g., if meeting in-person is required or preferred) help honor a client’s needs and preferences.
- Setting some basic guidelines for telehealth has also proved fruitful. I remind clients I can meet them anywhere in the state, providing it is a safe location, they have a private meeting space, and they have a secure Internet connection.
- Some providers, due to years of experience or having a more intuitive nature, might pick up on nonverbal language easier than other providers. It can be helpful to ask a client more clarifying questions if he/she/they are not directly in front of you.
- Know your lane. Stay within the scope of your practice. Build a strong referral network so that if you are not the best one to serve a particular client, you can give that client additional options to choose from within your referral network.
Can you share a few ways that Telehealth can create opportunities or benefits that traditional in-office visits cannot provide? Can you please share a story or give an example?
As a provider, meeting through telehealth affords a wider service range (i.e., throughout the state) beyond the local area. This might benefit individuals who live in more rural spaces or other areas with fewer providers.
There is more accountability and sense of empowerment on the client’s end meeting through telehealth. This is due to the fact that the client chooses where they meet for sessions and are typically in their own home/work environment. Ultimately, this can help some clients feel more secure/emotionally safe while meeting for telehealth services.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help facilitate Telehealth. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
One important feature is having a large screen to see the client/provider without the distraction of many buttons/toolbar/seeing our own video, etc. A clear video connection with minimal technological interruptions is key.
In my experience, it is not helpful to have a timer on the screen; this can be distracting to both the provider and client if they are focused on how much time is left during session.
A personal virtual waiting room has been helpful, as well; I have encouraged clients to log-in to their personal waiting room 10–15 minutes prior to session to review their notes from the previous session, jot down any questions or insights, and ground themselves prior to the current session; the purpose here is twofold: offering an experience that many clients might do while in an in-person waiting room, and helping clients prepare for session without feeling rushed or distracted.
To my surprise, I have found that most clients adapted to telehealth within 2–3 sessions. Furthermore, clients who initially had reservations have noted the convenience, simplicity, and time-saving nature of telehealth sessions.
If you could design the perfect Telehealth feature or system to help your patients, what would it be?
A perfect telehealth system, in my opinion, would essentially be its own office: it would provide a phone number/fax number, billing features, online portal, video conferencing abilities, and bookkeeping capabilities. This would help providers house everything under one roof and/or delegate certain responsibilities to administrative personnel, while continuing to oversee the practice.
Are there things that you wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office?
I find myself reminding clients to turn off notifications and close tabs in order to reduce/avoid service interruptions and maximize session quality. Technology grows so quickly and it’s impossible to standardize which devices, Internet connection, and readiness with which clients join sessions. I do believe that a client gets out of therapy what he/she/they put into therapy.
The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring people together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?
I’m sure this advancement could be incredible in certain helping/service industries. Since telehealth is fairly new to mental health professionals (5–10 years), I’m not sure what to expect technology-wise! Evolving technology to enhance user experience while maintaining strict HIPAA adherence would be fantastic.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
Privacy and confidentiality is at the forefront of my mind as well as many other healthcare providers’. In our technological age, where people’s lives are very public and very accessible, maintaining the integrity of privacy is crucial.
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am a strong proponent of the mind-body-spirit connection. I believe our healthcare systems would be much more efficient and empowering when addressing the person-as-a-whole, and when offering integrative/complementary services in-house.
When we teach people how to take care of their own health and facilitate their learning, consumers are likely to feel more empowered. This would require healthcare systems to consistently answer the why behind clients’ symptoms and presenting concerns, and the consequent how to move forward. When people invest in their own health, our respective roles as healthcare providers is actually easier! It’s a win-win.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you! My services, blog, media appearances, national mentions, and newsletter can all be found on drsupriya.com.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
All the best to you.