LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Linda Martin is well into her 60s, but that doesn't mean she's behind in the digital age.
A longtime mental health counselor in the Bradenton area, Martin is using new media to operate her counseling practice and accommodate clients in the ever-changing digital world.
From her office in Bradenton or Lakewood Ranch, while on vacation out of state, or even at home, Martin can hold sessions with patients through new communications venues. Going mobile has also benefitted patients who can avoid canceling appointments, Martin says, and make or cancel appointments online.
Martin says she was always computer savvy, but was encouraged to expand her business through new media after taking a technology course at State College of Florida.
"It's a way of expanding the business, but doing it in a way where I can work more efficiently as one person," she said.
Martin has been a licensed mental health counselor for more than 30 years and is also an adjunct psychology professor at State College of Florida. She founded the Family Counseling Center at 439 Cortez Road in Bradenton 13 years ago and recently moved into office space in Lakewood Ranch at 5319 Paylor Lane.
Over the past few months, Martin, who has experimented with using Skype, a computer video chat software program; FaceTime, which allows video calls over Wi-Fi from an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Mac computer; and text messaging to communicate with clients. There's no change in fee and the sessions are for the same amount of time.
Martin also uses mobile debit card readers and files her encrypted and security protected notes digitally. Clients can also use a checklist online to mark issues they are dealing with prior to their therapy sessions.
"It saves time in an interview," Martin said. "It won't allow me to get stuck on one thing and realize we never got to their other issues."
Therapist DeeAnna Nagel founded the Online Therapy Institute in 2008 to train other mental health counselors around the globe on how to use video conferencing, emailing, avatar therapy and other virtual therapy practices. A Florida native now practicing in New Jersey, Nagel is a member of the American Counseling Association and has used online therapy for a dozen years
"The culture is finally catching up," she said. "People are using technology so much it is becoming an expectation."
The American Mental Health Counselors Association Code of Ethics states that counselors should take the proper steps to ensure confidentiality is protected when using internet counseling. Because internet counseling must remain encrypted and be compliant with patient privacy rights, Nagel said many therapists are using secure platforms to connect with patients.
Connie Galietti, executive director of the Florida Psychological Association, said online therapy is a growing topic among Florida psychologists. Because psychologists can practice anywhere in the world via the internet, questions over state-issued certifications and jurisdictions of state boards have come into play.
The U.S. government has already weighed in on the issue. Earlier this year, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows veterans to receive behavioral health across state lines.
Insurance has also become an issue with health-related services via telecommunications, or telehealth. Medicare provides telehealth coverage only for beneficiaries located in rural, health professional shortage areas or in a county outside a metropolitan area. Some insurance companies don't cover it at all.
"There's nothing that requires insurance companies to cover this service," Galietti said. "It's up to the patient to understand their policy."
Within the next two years, Nagel expects insurance companies will become more accepting of patients that use online therapy.
"There will never be a replacement for face to face," Nagel said. "This just means we can reach that many more people that may have preference for receiving their therapy another way. It opens the pool."
Nick Williams, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams.