Kansas And Missouri Professional Licensing Attorney Discusses Ethical Teletherapy Practice

Use of emerging technologies is increasing in many aspects of healthcare. Teletherapy has grown significantly in health care professions such as psychology and other disciplines such as speech therapy.  Teletherapy as a recognized tool for treating patients has become a widely accepted practice. Teletherapy helps deliver treatment to people who have difficulty ambulating, or have to commute long distances like people who reside in rural areas, with greater ease and frequency. Accordingly, ethical obligations such as protecting patient-therapist confidentiality and informed consent are of paramount concern to practitioners utilizing the latest technological advances.  Kansas and Missouri professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger cautions healthcare professionals who use teletherapy as a component of their practice to maintain the highest levels of data security as well as obtaining the informed consent of the patient to preserve patient-therapist confidentiality and trust.

The American Psychological Association (“APA”) mandates that therapists strictly maintain patient-therapist confidentiality.  Therapists must take every reasonable precaution to guard against disclosure of confidential patient communications. Therapists are obligated not to disclose patient confidences and are further obligated to protect patient data, such as notes, reports, and the like, from disclosure as well. Additionally, the APA imposes an obligation on therapists to discuss the limits of confidentiality. In the context of teletherapy, the therapist must discuss the risks of loss of privacy and limits of confidentiality when using teletherapy as a means to deliver patient services.

Therapists must understand the technology before treating a patient remotely with teletherapy.  HIPPA rules also require therapists to protect confidential client information. The APA mandates that psychologists become knowledgeable about and competent in the technologies used in teletherapy. Treatment providers have to make certain that their patients know about the potential for data or security breach and the potential, if a breach occurs, for loss of confidentiality. Practitioners should consider using all of the security advances available to them such as encryption, use of firewalls, backup systems, password protection of computers and computer files, updated virus protection, as well as reputable third-party vendors who provide data security. Guarding against disclosure also means protecting the records when they are destroyed.  Practitioners must be aware of the proper means to destroy electronic data to prevent unwanted disclosure.

The threat of a data breach is real. Stories are legion about reputable firms, businesses, and government agencies getting hacked. In other words, internet security is illusory, and 100% internet safety cannot be guaranteed. The APA requires therapists to take reasonable steps to ensure confidentiality.  Reasonableness requires the licensee to become competent in the use of the technology and the means employed to secure it.  By way of example, a reasonable means to protect data is to update security software to the latest version and take other precautions that are currently in practice. Also, therapists must inform their patients about any potential data breaches.

Therapists in both Kansas and Missouri use teletherapy are a component of their practice. In theory, therapists can practice out of state because of internet technology. Practitioners must approach this prospect cautiously. Failure to adhere to each state’s out-of-state licensing requirements can result in the practitioner committing a misdemeanor.  Therefore, practitioners must be very careful when delivering services to clients who receive the services in another state.  The better practice for the psychologist and other therapists is to be licensed in the state in which they practice regularly and the state in which the patient receives their services.

For More Information

Kansas and Missouri Professional Licensing Attorney Danielle Sanger has vast experience representing psychologists and other therapeutic professionals facing licensing discipline. Attorney Sanger prides herself on zealously representing professional licensees against disciplinary action. Call Attorney Sanger today at 785-979-4353 to schedule a free consultation.