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Is Zoom the right choice for your practice?

Posted By Kelly Martincin, PhD | Communications and Technology Committee Co-Chair, Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Zoom... What psychologists might want to know before implementing use into your practice.  

Over the past month, many psychologists across the state have been learning a great deal about telehealth and videoconferencing.  For some of us, the curve has been very steep, for others the transition has been a little easier.  For me personally, I’ve used the teleconference platform Zoom for meetings previously, but it has now become a part of my daily life as so much more than meetings.  Get-togethers with friends, family events, and even my book club has moved to using this popular platform in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic.   Most importantly for OPA members is that many psychologists across the state are adopting it for telepsychology.  Even though I work for a medical system that provides its own telepsychology platform, I did the research for what many practitioners probably want to know about Zoom.

Is Zoom HIPAA compliant?  Yes and no.  This depends on what plan you are using.  Zoom’s most popular plan is the free option, which has a few limitations including not being HIPAA compliant and limiting the user to 40 minute sessions.  The free option doesn’t have important features such as a Business Associate Agreement (BAA), which is an agreement of shared risk in the rare event that there would be a breach of privacy, thus it is not HIPAA compliant.  Zoom does offer a HIPAA compliant plan starting at $200 a month for 10 hosts.  This might be a bit pricey for small practices, but it could be a good fit for larger groups.  Keep in mind that right now there is a government waiver in place that we are not required to use HIPAA compliant platforms due to the pandemic, so you are able to use the free Zoom account as long as you take reasonable precautions to protect your patients’ privacy.  It is unclear how long that waiver will remain in place, but the State of Ohio will likely give us plenty of warning for when it will expire.

Speaking of patient privacy, what about security?  Similar to everyone else, I was very concerned when I heard about “Zoom bombing” (cases of interlopers disturbing meetings in a troublesome fashion).  Some of these stories were a little humorous (students interrupting a school board meeting and making noises of various bodily functions), but some were horrifying (a man’s dissertation defense being disrupted in a malicious fashion).   For telepsychology, any of the above would clearly be completely unacceptable.  Zoom has multiple security features that you will be able to use on the free version.  Sessions can be password protected and there is also a neat “waiting room feature” where the host can see who is waiting to enter the meeting and only allow the proper people to enter (an awesome feature for group therapy).  Once you are in the session, you can also click the “security” icon in the bottom middle right of the screen to “lock” the meeting and no one else will be able to enter after that.   Also of note, since these events began occurring, the Zoom team has been working diligently to enhance their encryption services (there any many news reports about this) and they are rolling out new features all the time.  

What special features might be helpful to know about when I’m doing therapy?  Beyond knowing how to use the security features mentioned above, one of the most helpful features to know about when working with patients would be the screen share feature (click “share screen” icon in the bottom middle of the screen).  This allows you to show what is on your computer screen in the event you would want to show your patient a handout or brief film clip.  With this feature, there is also a white board option that turns your screen into a white board for you to illustrate a point.   For group therapy, the chat box can be helpful for people to add text for questions or comments while someone else is talking (“chat” icon bottom middle of screen).  There are also features for creating a poll or recording the session if those would be helpful to you.  A final fun feature I’d like to mention is the ability to change your background (for example, the screen would show you sitting in a tranquil meadow or whatever image you choose instead of your office).  Friends who work with child and adolescent populations say this is a big hit with kids!  To do this, find the up carrot (^) next to the “start video” icon and click “choose virtual background.”  From there, find the plus sign (+) in the lower right of the box to “add image” and add a previously downloaded image from your computer.  Then you can click on that image and whatever image you have chosen (for Zoom meetings with friends, it’s my favorite Australian beach!) is now your background.  If you want to undo this, it’s the same process; once you are in the “choose virtual image” feature choose “none.”  

The decision about whether the use of Zoom is right for you and your practice is a highly personal one, but many people are finding it helpful to at least be familiar with the platform as more and more meetings are being held on Zoom.  It is possible that this will be a trend that will continue even post-pandemic due to the ease of use and popularity of Zoom. 

Have a topic that you’d like to see covered in a future Communication and Technology Committee's (CTC) blog post?  Please email Dr. Kelly Martincin, Co-Chair of the Communications and Technology Committee and let CTC do the research for you!

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