Pushing the Ball Forward, Faster: Using the COVID-19 Pandemic to Expand Forensic Telehealth
There is no doubt that the world has changed for everyone over the last few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruption in almost every aspect of life and has forced most individuals and organizations, including threat assessment professionals, to shift, change, or adapt operations quickly to maintain service provision. Threat assessment professionals may benefit from looking to mental health and forensic services to see how these services have been adapting to inform their own work.
Moving in-person services toward alternative formats— including online telehealth services—has become an important component in trying to offer consistent mental health and forensic services and the current pandemic has simply ignited the already growing demand for telehealth services in forensic psychology. While some organizations had been slower to respond than others to this increasing need pre-pandemic, the current situation has required many to make this important move towards expanded telehealth services in short order. National and international organizations—such as the American and Canadian Psychological Associations— offer guidelines for internet-based therapy and teletherapy and others provide resources and training in digital therapy, but these are not specific to the forensic domain.
A small but growing pre-pandemic literature provides some information regarding the implementation and evaluation of videoconferencing and digital technologies for forensic evaluation (e.g., Adjorlolo & Chan, 2015; Luxton & Niemi, 2019; Sales, McSweeney, Saleem, & Khalifa, 2017). In addition to providing an overview of recent research examining the use of videoconferencing in forensic competency assessment, Luxton, Lexcen and McIntyre (2019) also include recommendations for implementing forensic videoconferencing programs— including a needs and readiness assessment, selection and installation of equipment and infrastructure, legal review and review of policies and procedures, and training and coordination considerations. Each of these areas should be reviewed and carefully considered when making the transition to or adding telehealth services.
For any service, organization, or threat assessment professional making the transition from in-person to online, there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way and the process will not always be a smooth one. Nevertheless, if the current pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we must be able to think flexibly about the way in which we provide services and have the adaptability to be able to pivot quickly in crises. Perhaps the biggest silver lining to the current pandemic is that we have pushed the ball forward faster than ever towards the much-needed expansion of telehealth services within the forensic domain.
Patricia A. Zapf, PhD
VP, Continuing & Professional Studies
Palo Alto University