PAU Professor, Donna Sheperis, PhD, Presents at Technology and Mental Healthcare Forum

March 3, 2023
Donna Sheperis Eleos Thought Leadership Panel.jpg

Palo Alto University professor Donna Sheperis, PhD, (pictured, right) with fellow Eleos Behavioral Health Thought Leadership Forum panelists.

Last month, Palo Alto University (PAU) Professor and Associate Department Chair of Counseling Donna Sheperis, PhD, was one of seven presenters at the Behavioral Health Thought Leadership Forum. The conference was hosted by the mental healthcare technology company Eleos in Phoenix, Arizona. 
Dr. Sheperis is the Director of the PAU eClinic, an online clinic offering mental health services to students, adults, and older adults in California. All counselors are advanced graduate students of PAU working under the supervision of licensed therapists and psychologists. The PAU eClinic is a practicum option in the Counseling and Psychology programs that utilizes Eleos telehealth technology, among other platforms. Sheperis was the only panelist from a university, as the others were from community mental health agencies that offer telehealth from across the country.
“This conference brought PAU exposure to the national scale,” says Sheperis. “Many times during the conference, the monitor of the panel referenced what we do at PAU in terms of training and service delivery as the model approach. We are sticking out as ‘the’ university regarding using telehealth technology effectively in mental healthcare.”
Sheperis says that most university training programs only offer exposure to basic technology, such as Zoom-based sessions and electronic health record systems. PAU, however, trains its students in various technological modalities, including how to use adjunctive therapies, such as AI chatbots and apps, with their clients.
Additionally, the eClinic interns become proficient in Eleos technology, which provides transcripts and analytics of Zoom counseling sessions. 
One advantage for clinicians is that the analysis of the sessions serves as rough drafts of progress notes that students edit for accuracy, client context, and adherence to treatment planning.
“Progress note writing is huge in our world,” says Sheperis. “These notes often take a long time to finish. So by having progress notes somewhat automated, there is more time for the students to serve their clients, and there is less burnout because the technology is helping with this time-consuming, rote task.”
Eleos technology also provides data and insights regarding the transcripts, including reports of clinician talk time in session, analysis of session themes, and graphs of client progress over time using embedded assessments. This augmented intelligence (AI) provides teaching opportunities for PAU eClinic supervisors to interpret the data and offer specific guidance for student improvement. 
“I can’t say enough about all of these technologies,” says Sheperis. “And PAU is one of the few universities actively training its students to embrace and become proficient with them.” 
At the conference, Sheperis co-presented the talk “Best Practices for Implementing New Technology.” Here, she focused on the importance of clinician affinity for technology and how to create buy-in among clinicians about learning new technology, such as listening to concerns and being patient with the learning process. Incentivizing clinicians to learn new technology, such as offering gift cards, was another strategy discussed. 
“It’s interesting, although clinicians are agents of change, we can be resistant to change,” says Sheperis. “Even though PAU is in the heart of Silicon Valley, some students are still resistant to learning about tech, so teaching them to embrace technology and having the willingness to try is huge. And, I don’t know of any other university doing this.” 
The most significant insight that Sheperis took away from the conference is that mental health agencies are seeking graduates who are proficient in technology, making PAU graduates competitive in the job market. 
“Mental health agencies are hungry for graduates who are good with tech, and we are the cutting-edge university in this scenario,” says Sheperis. “Because of this conference, when the hiring managers from these agencies see PAU on a resume, they will know that this graduate utilized technology in their training.”