Should Clinicians Make Face to Face Visits Right Now?
The COVID-19 pandemic has sent us all on a rollercoaster. Mental health providers, case managers, and social workers have really felt the ups and downs of this health crisis. After spending over a year out of the office teleworking and providing services via telehealth, many of us returned to the office and started to resume face to face visits. This return has been met with a number of challenges. Day programs and group homes continued to experience COVID infections. These positive infections have limited home visits from outside providers and have caused some day programs to close temporarily. New variants of the virus like Delta and Mu variants have made things even more complicated. These constant changes have sparked the argument of whether or not human service workers should be making home visits and other face to face contacts. Some believe the worst of the pandemic is over and in-person contact should not present major health or safety concerns. Others feel its still too soon for home visits and face to face office visits and prefer to continue with telehealth visits. Let’s look at both sides.
The Case for Face to Face Visits
Proponents of a full return to face to face visits point out that direct contact provides a better overall picture of the client’s health and safety. Of course, the telehealth visit only offers a limited view of the client’s conditions. This has been a major concern at the height of the pandemic when face to face visits were limited and children were in virtual school full-time. Child protective services saw a significant decrease in reports in 2020. According to a number of reports, visits to the Emergency Department (ED) for abuse related issues also declined during the pandemic.
However, just because abuse and neglect are not reported doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Many human services professionals fear that the lack of face to face contact with children is the primary reason for the decrease in reporting. Most reports of child abuse come from teachers, social workers and other professionals. According to 2019 research, almost 70% of child abuse reports were made by professionals. This is why face to face contact is critical for ensuring the health and safety of clients.
Concerns with Face to Face Visits
Despite the importance of face to face visits, the return to face to face visits has also been meet with some resistance. Group homes, day support programs, and facilities have continued to report positive COVID cases since restrictions have been relaxed. These cases have caused programs to close again for several weeks. New variants have raised even more concern about home visits. In addition, children now make up 25% of COVID cases in the United States according to recent data. Despite these concerns, telehealth has been pushed to the back burner for many agencies and face to face contact is now required.
Clinicians are encouraged to wear masks and remain at a distance during visits. Visiting outside when possible is also recommended. But is this really enough to keep us safe? COVID cases continue to rise and face to face contact is still encouraged by many agencies. Even those who are vaccinated are not immune from getting COVID and possibly spread the virus.
Telehealth should still be an option given the health and safety risks to both the clinicians and the people we serve. Although things have improved, we should still utilize the technology that helped us continue to provide services and get through this pandemic without a significant interruption. Combining face to face visits safely and telehealth when appropriate will ensure that we are still providing quality services while protecting the health of everyone.