For the past two or three weeks, I have been making plans about the changes that are coming as doctors are more and more able to resume our usual work.
Because of this, I can feel myself moving into a new kind of practice. My new practice will be more virtual. I will have more online appointments and more telephone appointments. Youth like these kinds of appointments better. While they don’t mind missing school, they do mind long bus rides and waiting for an appointment. It’s so much easier just to dial in or go to a telehealth link.
When I speak with my colleagues on the two outpatient teams I work with, it seems as though their experience is similar to mine. There have been many fewer missed appointments and most people feel that virtual appointments are here to stay.
The only exception is in relation to those patients who benefit from groups. So far, groups are not working as well in a virtual medium as they do in person. Young people who benefit from one of the group therapies are likely benefitting from the ideas and therapeutic interactions that occur only in groups. Seeing many people your own age struggle to find effective ways to practice mindfulness can make it easier for you to find your own practice. As one patient said, “Another kid’s mindfulness exercise works better for me than my Mom’s. It also feels just a little creepy to be following your Mom’s mindfulness practice: kind of like working out with her at the gym.” I never thought of it that way, but I see the point.
Another thing about virtual appointments that do not happen with real appointments is that they come to a youth’s own phone or tablet. This means that they can see the appointment when they open the calendar and they receive a reminder about it – usually fifteen minutes ahead. These are very helpful for an appointment that you call in or go online for. Also, the youth themselves must have the appointment in their phone, ensuring that they look after their own therapy, instead of having a parent involved. This often means better and greater engagement.
The new virtual models are going to revolutionize the way therapists work, in ways that we haven’t even considered. When I was speaking with one patient about virtual appointments, she talked about how she has been in therapy for a long time. She has a real interest in colour and design and has always wanted to share this: she shows me pictures of projects and assignments and it is one of the few things that pulls her out of her depression.
“Just think,” she said, “You’ll be able to see my room!”