Episode 51 – HIPAA compliant platform TheraPlatform

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Hello and welcome to the Online Counseling Podcast. I’m really excited about the next few episodes. We are going to be exploring some new platforms that are available for online therapy, and also getting to know some new online therapists. In fact, next week, we’re going to hear from a therapist in Texas who moved to Costa Rica with her family and she brought her therapy practice with her. So, stay tuned… I always love hearing about international therapists and people just really taking advantage of the technology that’s out there.


CC: But this week I’m really excited to introduce you to TheraPlatform. This is a new online video platform that is HIPPA compliant and offers all sorts of bells and whistles including scheduling, interactive forms that you and your client can work on together. I know a lot of therapists really go through exercises with their patients and this allows them to do that. They have appointment reminders, you get an online waiting room and depending on which membership level you get, you can also brand your own portal. They also allow you to accept payments right through the platform. It’s just a great vibrant option for us. But, what I’m really excited about is it allows therapists to do group therapy. I hear all the time that therapists are looking for a platform that will allow them to do group psychotherapy. Well, I found one and it’s really cool. So today we talk to TheraPlatform co-founder Beata Klarowska, who is a speech therapist who saw a need out there for therapists to connect with patients using technology. And, she and her co-founder went and created one.


CC: But before we get to the interview, a quick little commercial for the Online Therapy Directory. As many of you know this podcast is a part of the directory. As a therapist myself, when I needed to make a referral, I had a hard time finding other online therapists who are qualified and trained, and I knew a lot of therapists who didn’t know where to advertise their services. So, I created a directory, based on other therapist directories like Psychology Today and Good Therapy, with the whole goal of connecting clients with good online counselors. We want to help counselors build their online practice and teach them how to do online counseling in an ethical and legal manner. So, for a low monthly fee of $24 and 95 cents a month, they can list their profiles and start listing their practices and growing their practices. And unlike other platforms out there, we don’t require that you use any particular video conferencing tools, we don’t take a percentage of your fee, we just bring clients to you, and then you take it from there. And we are continuing our commitment plan option.


CC: So, if you pay for the year upfront you get a really big discount. I don’t think we’re gonna continue it for much longer. I keep saying that, but I want to keep it available for as long as possible. So for now, it’s still an option, and the numbers for the site are really growing. Everyday I’m hearing from therapists that they are getting solid referrals from the directory and booking those referrals, and just one new client will pay for their membership expense many times over. So, check us out at onlinecounseling.com. Okay, now on to the interview with TheraPlatform.com. I think you’re really gonna like this one.


CC: Hello and welcome to Beata Klarowska of TheraPlatform. Beata, thank you so much for talking with us today.


Beata Klarowska: Okay, my pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me.


CC: Yeah, I’ve been learning so much about TheraPlatform and I thought, “Who better to talk to us about it than the actual co-founder.” And, you are the co-founder of TheraPlatform, correct?


BK: Correct, yes.


CC: Okay. Well, tell me a little bit about the history of… Why did you all decide to bring this baby into the world? What is the need, what’s the little history behind this?


BK: Of course. So, I’m the co-founder, and I’m a speech and language pathologist and I come from the medical setting. And so, I had the pleasure of working with many different therapists. So, OTs, PTs and mental counselors, psychiatrists, doctors. And I was always interested in technology, and I found it really amazing how technology can help us therapists in treating patients. And I’ve helped a lot of patients who suffered from stroke, and their families, to actually use assistive communicative devices. I help them use it and program them. So, they can communicate using the computers or iPads.


BK: So, I was always intrigued and interested in technology. And my co-founder, he’s a software engineer, so he has a great passion for new trends in technology. He has been in the field for over 20 years and just has been a great asset to our company. And worked on some really cool projects here in Los Angeles for high-profile show business companies. And he actually started to program at the age of 12. So, when he… Yeah, so when he was 12, he coded a program for his parents. His parents had a store and back then accounting was very simple, it was done by paper and pencil. So, he wrote a program for them. And he brought it over to his dad, and he said, “Dad, this is gonna save you so much time.” And Dad just had a look at him. He said, “Okay son,” and he never used it of course. [chuckle]


BK: I guess he didn’t trust a 12-year-old. So the two of us actually founded Virtual Speech Center in 2011, and we kind of started off with writing… Kind of like a prototype teletherapy platform. But back then, technology wasn’t mature enough for what we were hoping to build and it was constantly changing. So we decided to put this project on hold and just wait for the right tools and times… And time. And so we concentrated our efforts, for over six years, on developing content for therapists, and we built over 40 different apps targeting many different areas: Cognition, language, critical thinking, problem solving, executive functioning. And with the idea that, eventually, we would be able to incorporate this content into our platform.


BK: And really, nowadays, technology is just amazing, and you can build unbelievable things using the technology. So we decided to start working on this project over a year ago, but really what gave us the green light to build TheraPlatform was the changing market of teletherapy and therapists. We met a lot of therapists during different conferences that our company attended, and they approached us at the booth and say, “Could you please develop a therapist-friendly platform because we are using the general video conferencing tools and they’re just very limited. It’s very difficult to have an engaging therapy.” And they have to kind of go back and forth between the video conferencing tool and the desktop, and they have to use the screen sharing tools. And when you use the screen sharing tools, you’re always exposing your own desktop and your own computer.


CC: Right.


BK: So you have to be really careful about HIPAA, what I call HIPAA hiccups. [chuckle] And every…


CC: I’m gonna steal that. I’m gonna steal that one, HIPAA hiccups. I like that.


BK: Yeah, because it’s something that you do not intentionally. When you screen share your desktop you have to be mindful of what’s on your desktop. Are there any names of your patients? Any personal information? So that was the main complaint, too. They just feel so exposed and one of them made this HIPAA hiccup, and she clicked on the patient’s report and so that was… And that’s the case. And also they reported to us that is was just so much time and energy for them to organize their own therapeutic materials. And it depends on your style. Some of the online therapists, all they need is really a secure platform to talk to, but many of the therapists they present their clients or patients with handouts or worksheets. So they really gave us an idea of… This is something’s really needed. A platform that has the ability for them to upload their own worksheets and also share the worksheets during the session without leaving our platform. So you, as a therapist, you can upload your worksheets, your handouts. You don’t have to close our platform to screen share. Your worksheets are becoming part of TheraPlatform. So everything is built-in and you can present the worksheet, and worksheets are interactive. So both you and your clients, you can manipulate the worksheets together. You can draw on it…


CC: All while being on the platform?


BK: Yes.


CC: Okay, okay.


BK: So that was a big need for it. So this is one of the features that we include in TheraPlatform. And we also had these great apps, and that was also something that they really asked us to incorporate too. Just to give them some multi… Majority, when they teach or when they have a session of clients.



CC: And the two of you created this kind of Virtual Speech Center, developed these apps, and then came back to TheraPlatform, really by listening to the therapeutic community on what they needed. So you’ve created a tool that is vibrant and really powerful, based on it sounds like about five or six years of work developing the apps, but then also listening to the therapist community and what they needed. Now, when you say a therapist, are you talking about psychotherapists and counselors, or also… Sounds like you are also working with occupational therapists and physical therapists, and what do you mean by that?


BK: Right. So our… My goal was to create something that’s multi-disciplinary in nature, and so any kind of therapist can use our platform. So our customers are occupational therapists, we have a lot of school psychologists, online counselors, social workers, and also speech and language pathologists, and a few psychiatrists, as well. So it’s really multi-disciplinary. And the way we designed our plans was to give therapists, really, flexibility. So they can pick and choose the plan according to their needs.


CC: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about those membership plans and the cost behind them?


BK: Of course, I’d be very happy. And so our plan starts with the Basic Plan, and so this one is $20 per month per therapist and it offers unlimited HIPAA compliant video. So we don’t limit you in terms of how many hours or how many clients. You can have unlimited number of hours and an unlimited number of clients. And with this plan you can also accept payment, so credit card payments. You can do scheduling, you can chat, you have waiting room and you can conduct group therapy.


CC: Oh, you can do group therapy?


BK: Yes, you can.


CC: How many people in the group?


BK: I think the limit is… I think it’s 10.


CC: Oh wow, okay. Great.


BK: Yeah.


CC: Okay, go ahead.


BK: And then we have the Pro Plan. So the Pro Plan is $40 per online therapist per month. So it basically includes all the features that the Basic has to offer plus you can upload your own worksheets or your own documents and share them during the session. We also give you screen-sharing feature, built-in white board. So this could be used by both you and your clients to draw and to write on it. And with the Pro, you can also add multiple therapists. So if you have a clinic or a private practice, you can add multiple therapists. And you can also share your clients. So you can schedule, if you’re the administrator, you can schedule, moving between calendars of different therapists and you can also track time. So this is great, let’s say, you have a private practice of multiple therapists. You, as a boss, you wanna make sure that they do see clients and you wanna see how they’re doing in terms of time. So this gives you some report on how your therapists are doing timewise.


CC: Oh wow, that’s incredible. Okay.


BK: Yes. And also, you as a boss, you would know, “Okay, this therapist entered the room at this time and left the room at this time.” So you know how much time they spend with the client. And you can also take notes during session or after session, and we also allow you to keep track of your goals. So if you have any goals, if you keep that on the goals, during the session you can score your worksheets, and then you can go back to the reports and view how your clients are doing. And then we have Pro Plus. So Pro Plus is $60 per month per online therapist, and it has all of the features that I covered plus you have your branded portal. So you can add your own logo. You have our interactive apps, and you can take notes and progress-tracking… So the main difference is also that you have our apps. And then the Enterprise, that’s for bigger corporations or companies. So we offer custom domain, and full customization, and professional services.


CC: Okay. That’s more for dealing with a community mental health center or a hospital or a university, something like… Okay.


BK: Right, right. Yes.


CC: But essentially, three… For my listeners, I think, these three different platforms of the Basic at $20 a month, the Pro for 40 and then the Pro Plus at 60. Those are really reasonable prices, and they’re all HIPAA compliant.


BK: Yes.


CC: Talk to me about what that means, HIPAA compliant. I’m assuming, obviously, that it’s encrypted but you offer the Business Associate Agreement for each of those levels?


BK: Yes, correct. For all of them. And we don’t charge you extra for signing the AA with you. But HIPAA compliant platform, that’s a big question and I’m glad you asked this question. And I still meet many therapists who are confused about it, and some of them claim that since they only provide education or consultation a HIPAA-friendly platform is not really important or required. I also meet therapists who claim that Skype is okay for them to use as they don’t store any patient health information. So they don’t store any PHI such as medical history. So, before answering your question, I would really like to emphasize that according to the law, when you are a health care provider and that includes not only doctors, but also therapists, you need to comply with HIPAA regulations. And consultation and education, they are all part of patient care. So when you meet your clients for education, you still need to follow the law. In terms of the PHI, Patient Health Information, it’s also important to know that PHI doesn’t only apply to medical history or progress and all that you take on your client. Your client’s name and phone number are also part of PHI.


BK: So when you connect with your clients online for therapy, you often need to have their names or emails to schedule them, and to connect with them online. So the name is part of PHI, so it has to be protected according to the law. Another common comment that I hear from therapists is that the platform doesn’t really have to be HIPAA compliant as long as therapists are HIPAA compliant. And this is where the main confusion is. That’s at least my impression. So yes, therapists need to be HIPAA compliant, and they have to have administrative and physical safeguards in place, but also technical safeguards. So if you, in your practice, use any type of technology for your patient’s management, taking notes and in our case, teletherapy platform, you still have to meet those technical requirements of HIPAA. So in order for therapists to meet technical requirements of HIPAA, they need to choose a software that meets the technical HIPAA standards, such as access control, added controls, transmission security encryption and personal authentication. So your question is really how TheraPlatform meets all these technical regulations. So I’m gonna answer it now.


CC: Okay. [chuckle]


BK: And when we were building this platform together, that was our goal too. I come from the medical background, and I know HIPAA is very important, and I was trained on HIPAA on a regular basis working in the hospital. So that was something very important to us and we take it very seriously. So our platform meets all of the standards because we require that all users, so therapists and their clients, have secure passwords to enter the platform and to connect to your online session.


BK: Data in our platform is encrypted and at rest and in transfer. Video conferencing is also encrypted, so all your live sessions are encrypted. And we have added controls in place to ensure that we always stay HIPAA compliant. And we have automatic log outs after a certain amount of inactivity. And we have BAA signed with our hosting company and other third party vendors. And of course we have more technical safe guards in place, but they are very technical in nature even for me to explain. My co-founder.


CC: Yeah. Yeah, We don’t need to go too deep. We don’t need to go too deep.


BK: Okay.


CC: But okay, that’s good to know, that you have done the thinking for us. This is encrypted, it’s safe, it’s compliant with HIPAA, it allows us to be compliant with HIPAA because we’re using your platform. Tell me a little bit about how this works. Is this an application that I and my client need to download onto our devices? Is this web-based? Talk a little bit about that.


BK: Sure. So, yes. This is web-based, so you don’t have to download any additional software on your desktop. You do have to have adequate internet connection, and we run on Google Chrome Browser. So if you don’t have the latest version of the Google Chrome Browser, it’s not a big deal. You can just go on the website and download it very quickly. And so when you subscribe with us, we also give you the ability to name your own URL. So you’re not just sharing our general TheraPlatform URL. Every therapist… Every clinic or practice, you guys can pick your own name and have your own personal URL.


CC: Oh.


BK: So that’s kind of unique about our platform too. And then, once you log in, you add clients to your list and then you schedule them. And then your clients, they get notifications from TheraPlatform about their upcoming appointments, and they have a link in the email, they click on the link and they have to enter their username and password. And so every meeting has it’s own kind of unique token, or ID, behind, so you’re not sharing any general link. It’s very individualized, and it’s secure in a way that the same client cannot enter the same URL.


CC: Wow, okay. So, just looking at the features, you’ve got scheduling, you’ve got reminders, you’ve got, obviously, uploading your… Any kind of worksheets that you may be able to use, and both of you able to work on that. You’ve got your own URL that you can make kind of branding with your own profession or your own brand and website. You say you take payments, and that’s something like, through Stripe?


BK: Yes.


CC: Okay. Alright. I’ve got a Stripe account, so that makes it pretty easy. Let’s see, how do you see the application in the platform growing? What direction do you think you’re going with this?


BK: So we have pretty steady growth, and we are very happy where we are at this point. And our application is popular among solo therapists because we are a budget-friendly platform… But we are getting more and more popular among larger organizations, especially the ones that provide multidisciplinary services. As, you know, TheraPlatform can meet the needs of all therapists and so… And part of it is because of our built-in tools and materials. And, also more and more organizations, they start to realize that in order for them to compete and to gain trust from their stakeholders, in teletherapy world, they need to implement a teletherapy platform that would impress their stakeholders. So often the general videoconferencing tools may not be enough for them to compete, so we see more and more organizations reaching out to us ’cause they like the idea of the turnkey solution. Often they provide multiple services, so they don’t want to have a platform only for counselors and then subscribe to a platform for speech pathologists. They wanna have everyone in one location. And TheraPlatform is also getting more popular among organizations because therapists who work for those organizations often ask their bosses to implement our platform because of our built-in interactive content.


BK: And it’s just… It’s easier for online therapists to just have everything ready for them. They can just log in and start conducting interactive therapy, so… But our growth is definitely in the area of larger clinics and practices, agencies and organizations. So, that’s where I see the growth.


CC: Do you have an estimate of how many people are using your application now?


BK: I would have to go back to the numbers, but we are a pretty new platform on the market. It’s hard for me to come up with a number now because, as I said, many of them have multidisciplinary services.


CC: Right, right.


BK: So if it’s one client, they may have 40 different therapists, so it’s kind of… Yeah.


CC: That’s a good point. That’s a good point. But you certainly see that the market is growing. More and more people are using… Are connecting through Teletherapy.


BK: Yes. Yes, for sure. I mean, going back to 2011, we did a few mock therapy sessions and people, even therapists themselves, were very skeptical. They didn’t feel comfortable with the technology, they didn’t believe that something like this could help their clients or patients, but there is more research out there, and the concept is pretty much proven. So, I think more therapists are open for it, and they are a lot of telehealth bills being passed, and health insurance companies are more open too. Definitely, there is more.


BK: More doors are open and so I think it’s gonna get even more popular, and predictions are, that in five years, 90% of mental health will occur over the internet. So it’s kind of interesting.


CC: Wow, five years?


BK: Yeah.


CC: That’s incredible.


BK: It makes, to me, it makes sense. It’s just very convenient and it also helps to remove the social stigma, especially with mental counseling. And also, individuals who live in very remote areas, they may not even have access to specialists. So this is great, I think.


CC: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, for so many reasons. Certainly people in rural areas, for the convenience, for anti-stigma. I hear a lot of therapists say that it just feels different connecting online versus being in the same room, but so many people that have tried it and that… You get used to it pretty quickly. And the idea that sometimes this is the only way that patients are going to access care.


BK: Exactly, right. And it’s not for everyone, of course, you have to use your clinical judgment, and not every single client or patient is gonna benefit from it, but definitely there are lot of benefits to online therapy.


CC: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of looking at the bells and whistles, and one of the things we wanted to talk about was how is TheraPlatform unique and different. And I think you’ve done a really good job of exploring that. Certainly, with the interactive piece, and all the different services and apps that you provide. Anything else that maybe we haven’t touched on, and maybe we should?


BK: I think we pretty much covered everything. I mean, the only… Another thing I can think of now, is that in terms of how we are different from the general conferencing tools, is also our platform doesn’t allow you to kind of take any shortcuts. So you’re always required to have a password to enter our platform, and we don’t allow therapists to generate general global meeting to meet all of the clients. So, let’s say if you’re using a… Let’s say GoToMeeting, you can have a general link global meeting, and then you always use the same link to meet all of your clients. And this potentially could be a problem, and it’s not being HIPAA compliant because you have to have passwords to enter. If you have just a general global meeting link to all of your clients, they don’t have to enter passwords. So that’s a big one. And also you wanna make sure that, when you share this global link… That people don’t enter the same meeting at the same time. [chuckle] And I know stories… Someone shared the story with me that she emailed this general link to one of her patients, she had a session with the patient, and then another patient of hers missed the time and he also clicked on the same link from his email. And he entered the session with the clinician working with her first client.


CC: Oh, wow.


BK: Yeah. Yeah.


CC: That’s not good. [chuckle]


BK: That’s not good, and think about all your clients and patients. And let’s say you have this very emotional moment in your therapy and someone is crying, and then someone pops in because they had the same link to enter the same meeting. And someone pops in… I mean, yeah, it’s… Yeah.


CC: Yeah, okay. I love that you are thinking through some things that sometimes we, as clinicians, are not thinking through, but I guess that’s where your talent is versus ours. [chuckle] The technical aspect of it all.


BK: Yeah, yeah. And we always… We have also in place risk analysis, and that’s something that I always recommend to my customers. I say, “If you’re not sure, just go to the government website, HIPAA website. And they have tools for you to use, and app that helps you to evaluate and take the tests, the risk assessment tests.”


CC: Wow, incredible.


BK: Yeah.


CC: Well, Beata, I thank you so much for doing the run down here on this. It’s an incredible new tool for us as therapists to use. I encourage all our listeners to go check it out. It’s theraplatform.com. It’s incredibly… It’s reasonable, it’s budget-friendly. You’re getting your entire office for… With the Basic, which seems like it has all… Everything that you need for $20 a month. Yeah. And to do group therapy. I’m hearing so many people talk about that they are looking for platforms that can do group therapy online and there’s just nothing out there. So, here we go, we got one. So, Beata, thank you so much for spending some time with us.


BK: Of course, my pleasure. Thank you so much.