The Endless Wonders and Opportunities of Cyberspace

The National Psychologist

September/October 1995

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

WOW! What amazing changes have taken place in the past year. One year ago, in The National Psychologist's 1994 Computer Supplement, you read about technologizing your practice, computerized assessment options and some musings about instant mental healthcare communication down the Information Superhighway.

This year's issue makes a much bolder statement: The Information Superhighway is here and psychology is (or should be) exploiting the myriad opportunities it offers.

In my first column a few months ago "Hitchhiking on the Information Superhighway" (March/April 1995), I detailed what a Psychologist needed to get technologized. Let me reiterate two points:

1. It is no longer difficult or expensive to technologize your practice.

2. There are boundless opportunities for Psychologists to profit from their small investment in technology.

I will amplify those points shortly, but first, a little history.

Computers have been around offices for a couple of decades, but only in the past 5-10 years have they begun to penetrate the soundproof walls of the mental health profession. The earliest pioneers were those brave practitioners who, in the early-to-mid 1980s decided to computerize their financial records and their testing. Many of these were closet tinkerers or refugees from an undergraduate engineering or math degree and they met resistance from the masses. Psychology is about people, not about computers, their colleagues would argue. These pioneers would trudge back to their home computers -- which they dared not bring into the office -- and work the bugs out of the program that they were forced to customize for their special needs.

During the last 6-7 years the practitioner's world has changed. Results of my recent survey with Dr. Michelle Weil (July/August issue), showed that three-fourths of California psychologists use a computer in their practices. Unfortunately, most of them use it solely for word processing, but that is bound to change soon. Why am I so confident in this prediction? Back to my two points.

1. It is no longer difficult or expensive to "technologize" your practice.

An entire office technology set-up (computer, modem, printer, fax, voice mail) costs about half of what it cost just a few years ago. And, it offers more options and it is easier to use. Much of the work is done for you in the background without you even being aware that it is happening.

2. There are boundless opportunities for Psychologists to profit from their small investment in technology.

What can you do with your technologized office?

It enables you to do your accounting tailored to your practice.

This newspaper and other mental health publications carry numerous advertisements for office management programs. They range from about $200 to $1,000 and are marvelously versatile. They will track your accounts receivable, print insurance forms, alert you when your managed care client is about to run out of sessions (or money or time), and more. They do it all for you and most of them are very easy to use. After you enter your accounting data, the computer takes charge, churning out your data, thereby quickly paying for themselves. They free you from either doing your own accounting or hiring someone to do your monthly billing. Today's software can even automatically (electronically) send your statement to the insurance company which saves postage and gets you paid much more quickly.

Helps you with your psychological assessments.

According to our recent survey, 58% of California psychologists administer psychological assessments six or more times per year. Your computer can make your job much easier by doing some or all of the following: Administering, scoring, printing graphs and/or printing a profile (which you can and should edit to add your own ideas and remove conclusions with which you do not agree). Not only does this make your job easier, but also more profitable since your time will be freed up for pursuing additional business opportunities.

Work directly with patients.

No, you are not in danger of being replaced by Hal from 2001. But, in the past five years, a whole new world has erupted in which the computer can be used to work directly with a patient on stress reduction, rehabilitation, perceptual training, and even, as you will read in the New York Times article Virtual Reality Helps to Conquer Fear of Heights, reprinted in this issue, help people conquer a variety of phobias. It is a tool and psychologists are becoming quite innovative and creative in its application. There are, however, cyber-ethical issues that are critical in dealing directly with patients. Tom Nagy's article Technology and Psychology in this issues brings you up-to-date on all of them.

Collaborate with other psychologists to keep up-to-date on political issues, treatment breakthroughs, managed care news, and online resources.

Five years ago, America Online or Prodigy or Compuserve or the World Wide Web were unknowns. Now, it seems you can't read any magazine or newspaper without a mention of being online. Estimates are that the percentage of people online is increasing 15% per month. The World Wide Web is growing so fast it is nearly impossible to keep up with all of the new sites that can be visited. And, if and when Bill Gates gets approval from the Justice Department to include his Microsoft Network with nearly every new computer, people will literally be able to get online by pushing one button. Not even a disk to load, merely pressing a button! Estimates are that Microsoft Network, in its first year, may have more subscribers than all of the other services combined (approaching 7,000,000).

What does this mean for you? If you read Marlene Maheu's Psychologists Unite Online and Steve Bond's The Top Ten Web Sites in Psychology in this special supplement, you will get a sense that there are a staggering number of ways that a psychologist can benefit from being online.

As food for thought, I told my WWW browser (Netscape) to go to http://www1.mhv.net/~grohol/grohol.html. This is a FREE list of psychological resources compiled and update frequently by John Grohol, M.S. from ... oh, it doesn't really matter where John is from because it is a free phone call to get there on the World Wide Web. With just a click of a button you are whisked to a list of hundreds of psychology resources on every imaginable topic. To obtain that resource ... you got it, just another press of a button. Grohol also lists professional discussion groups and support groups (online) on hundreds of topics (see Hitchhiking to Cyberia in the May/June 1995 National Psychologist for a description of how to use these to your advantage).

There's a whole (cyber) world out there folks. It is yours for the taking!

 

Copyright, 1995, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.