The popularity of online therapy continues to skyrocket. In this, the third update to our article on free online therapy video software, we are happy to report that there is still support out there for therapists who want to “dip their toes” into the water and try it out at low-to-no cost.
New in this update: we specify which free options are best for individuals and which is best for groups!
Many therapists get into working online because an in-person client travels or moves house and then asks that their therapist stay with them via remote practice. That’s a good thing, but it raises a question of costs. Ethical, HIPAA-compliant practice that meets standard of care requires some investment of time and possibly a bit of money. Fortunately, there are options for covering the video software part of that at no monetary cost — and they aren’t Skype or Facetime!
Skype and Facetime are not good options for delivering telemental health services (not sure why that is? See our article on How Skype Became Software Non-Grata→.) Yet, many people wish to use them because they’re free and are often already there when we get our computers. This makes it easier on both clinician and client to use them. Luckily, the options we’ll explore in this article are just about as easy to acquire and use.
What Do We Need From Our Software?
There are a large number of things we need for our HIPAA compliance when we get a company’s software involved in our therapy services. The most obvious and concrete need is to execute a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement with that company (not sure what that is? See our article, What Is a HIPAA Business Associate?→)
In this article, we will review and compare online therapy software options that:
- Provide a Business Associate Agreement to health care customers for the free version of the software.
- Pass muster when we do an informal, non-rigorous but still much-deeper-than-just-reading-the-website audit/review of the software’s security; and of the company’s attitude towards both security and the usefulness of their product(s) to mental health clinicians.
What products are on our list for review? Colleagues of mine, I give you (in alphabetical order):
- Clocktree (for solo or group practices)
- Doxy.me (for solo practices)
- VSee (for solo practices)
(Where did Regroup Connect go? They recently informed their free service users that they intend to start charging for Regroup Connect “later in 2019.” They still seem like a fine company to us, but this article is for free solutions. So they’re off of this list.)
Free Online Therapy Software With All the HIPAA Fixin’s? How?
Each product on our list has its own reasons for being willing to do a BAA for no cost. So I’ll just list what each company says about the subject and what you need to do to get that BAA executed with them:
Clocktree is the newest addition to this august list!
Clocktree uses the same software standard under the hood that Doxy.me uses (for my fellow nerds: it uses WebRTC.) So it has some similarities to Doxy.me in how therapist and client connect to a session. The similarities largely end there, however.
We’ve had the opportunity to use Clocktree with several of our group practice clients who are completing our group telemental health certification process. We found it easy to use from both the clinician and client end.
Clocktree’s payment model makes it perfect for group practices who only need to use video software for a few hours a month. At the time of writing, Clocktree was free to use for up to 10 hours/month. After that, there is a fee.
What’s more, Clocktree lets you put unlimited users on your practice’s Clocktree account. This is wonderful for groups who want to maintain HIPAA Security standards, since it is very important for group practices to create separate user accounts for each person on every service the group uses.
In 2016, Roy had a lovely conversation with Dylan Turner at Doxy.me in which Roy asked a lot of pointed questions for which Dylan had satisfactory answers. His story, and the one described on their website, is that Doxy.me arose out of a grant-funded project to fill a gap in telehealth software services at the university where Doxy.me was born.
They state that the free version is for solo and small practices, and larger clinics can pay for a version with a lot more bells and whistles. Turner reported that this business model is supporting Doxy.me, which is more important than it may sound at first — if a company can’t survive financially, it will disappear from under you. Turner indicated that there is little risk of Doxy.me going under in the near future.
Executing a Business Associate Agreement with Doxy.me is a part of the initial setup process. We have verified that no special process is required.
Long-time readers know VSee well, as we have long-touted it as a good video software option that was designed specifically for telemedicine. Some disclosure: Roy uses VSee for his own online therapy practice.
In 2018, VSee released their VSee Clinic service, which is a significant improvement on their already-quite-good VSee Messenger service. Solo clinicians can use VSee Clinic’s basic functions without charge and without limit.
Executing a Business Associate Agreement with VSee for the Clinic service is part of the signup and no special process is required.
VSee used to have a special process that clinicians needed to follow in order to get a BAA for their Messenger service. With the advent of VSee Clinic, that is no longer necessary. We recommend that clinicians use VSee Clinic and not VSee Messenger from now on.
Conclusions About Free Online Therapy Software
We see no obviously superior free online therapy software application, but we can see how for different practices one option may be clearly superior to the others.
And lastly, some links to help you find these lovely free, HIPAA-friendly options (once again, in alphabetical order):
An Important Note
The primary mission of this article is to guide therapists away from Skype and Facetime by providing appropriate options that are similarly easy to access and use (i.e. free and simple.)
The fact is, there is a multitude of options out there for performing online therapy, including a number of platforms that provide much more than just the simple video connection provided by the options in this article.
For those who are seriously thinking about getting into telemental health, you owe it to yourself to also check out our:
- Solo Telemental Health Certificate Program
- Group Telemental Health Certificate Program
- HIPAApropriateness reviews of different options for getting HIPAA-secure videoconferencing.