Communities around the globe have been undergoing varying levels of reopening as more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and take cautious steps back to “life as normal.” Reopening your behavioral health practice to in-person sessions will likely result in plenty of questions as you decide on the best strategy for you and your clients.
Today, we’re talking about some important points to consider as you welcome back your clients. We’re also offering a new template in our directory, the Informed Consent for In-person Services During the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis, that was developed by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA has given us permission to offer this valuable resource to our customers. We hope it helps take some of the uncertainty out of your reopening decisions.
Before you reopen, decide who you’ll see in-person
Establish some basic criteria that will allow you to comfortably determine who you will invite to in-person sessions.
One key question is your client’s vaccination status. However, be cautious about how you broach this topic. The legality surrounding using vaccination status as the main determining factor for seeing or not seeing a client isn’t clear yet, and it might be a while before it is. It’s best if this is part of the overall conversation about whether or not an in-person session is the best choice for your client. Make sure that if you choose not to see a client in person, you either offer telehealth sessions or refer them to someone who can see them.
Also, be wary of developing a false sense of security due to vaccination status. Just because a person is vaccinated doesn’t mean you should set aside all precautions. Consider all factors at play – age, underlying health conditions, regular contact with people at higher risk – before making your decision.
You might find that in the first year of reopening, it’s simplest to default to using telehealth sessions unless there’s a specific need for a client to see you in person. A significant decline in mental health might make you more inclined to see a client in person. Or technical issues that make telehealth sessions difficult might warrant an office visit.
By making telehealth your default method for seeing clients, you can make exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Just be sure to document how you made your decisions in case questions arise later.
Establish ground rules for your clients
If you decide to start seeing clients again in your office, make sure that both you and your clients know what your responsibilities are. Everyone will have different levels of comfort regarding social distancing, masks, and other requirements. Your ultimate goal is safety, but you also want your clients and staff to be comfortable. Here are some of the ground rules you might want to put in place at the beginning. You can always adjust them later.
- Screen for COVID-19 before their appointment
- Take their temperature before arriving for their session
- Inform you if they’ve been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID
- Agree to wear a mask
- Agree to not shake hands
Your office will...
- Conduct daily office sanitizing
- Ensure masks are available at the front desk
- Provide spaced out seating in the waiting room and manage the schedule so the room is not overcrowded
- Establish a liberal sick leave policy, so if any staff member feels ill, they can stay home
- Screen for COVID-19 symptoms in staff members
Require clients to sign an additional Informed Consent form
In addition to your usual Informed Consent form, it’s a good idea to add a second Informed Consent that addresses the particular concerns of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. The APA has developed an Informed Consent template just for this purpose and has given Hushmail permission to add it to our template directory as an editable template.
The template puts everything we discuss in this post into one organized document that you can tailor to fit your practice. Keep in mind that laws, regulations, and related information continually change, and it’s best to monitor local, state and federal officials and update this form as necessary to stay in compliance with their guidance.
The template addresses the following topics:
- Making the decision to meet face-to-face
- Risks of opting for in-person services
- Client’s responsibility to minimize their exposure
- Practitioner’s commitment to minimize exposure
- How to proceed if the client or practitioner become sick
- Client’s confidentiality in the case of infection
Because the form comes with a signature field, it will be available to Hushmail customers with plans of 5 accounts or more. If you aren’t currently on this plan, you will be prompted to upgrade when you open the template. See how the template looks in use by clicking on the link: Informed Consent for In-person Services During the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis
Keep telehealth as an option
Be clear in your Informed Consent form that if for any reason in-person sessions constitute a health risk for your client, your staff, or yourself, you have the right to offer a telehealth option instead. Then keep this in mind as you reopen. You are never obligated to offer an in-person session if you don’t feel safe. Be sure to record the reasons why you chose to offer telehealth instead and always make your decisions based on ensuring safety for everyone involved in your practice.
Ready to start using the new APA Informed Consent template in your practice as an online form?
If you decide to start seeing clients again in your office, make sure that both you and your clients know what your responsibilities are. Your ultimate goal is safety, but you also want your clients and staff to be comfortable. The newest addition to our template directory, Informed Consent for In-person Services During the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis, addresses making the decision to meet face-to-face, risks of opting for in-person services, your clients’ responsibility to minimize their exposure, and much more.
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