Right now is a stressful time as COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, continues to spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have both emphasized how now it’s more important than ever for us to maintain “social distancing.” How do we do that and maintain our ethical and legal obligations to our clients – not to mention keeping our income relatively intact?
Many therapists – even those who have never considered doing telehealth – are beginning to explore those options. The first consideration is whether to invest in a video platform that’s HIPAA compliant or just use readily available video apps such as Skype, Facetime or WhatsApp. There’s a big pull to use well-known apps since chances are, both you and the client are already familiar with how they work. However, there are two important legal and ethical reasons why that’s not a good idea, even if your client signs a release that they’re fine with it:
- ENCRYPTION: Video platforms that are not HIPAA-compliant may or may not be encrypted. If they’re not, the sessions you have with your client could easily be hacked – without either of you being aware of it. A worst-case scenario would be to learn that some of your confidential therapy appointments had been posted on the Internet.
- BAA (Business Associate Agreement): Even if your video platform is encrypted, if it’s not HIPAA-compliant, the company is not going to give you a BAA. The BAA isn’t just a nice add-on. The BAA is the legally binding document between you and the company where they agree to keep all client data (PHI) confidential. Without a BAA, the company has the right to sell your client data to any company or individual that wants to buy it. They will often claim that they de-identify the data, but there are cases where people have been able to identify members of their community using de-identified data.
Ethically, it’s our responsibility to at least do no harm to our clients. When we use non-HIPAA-compliant video platforms or platforms without a BAA, we can’t ensure that.
Legally, we are bound by HIPAA to use products that can be HIPAA-compliant. Keep in mind that HIPAA is federal law. Fines for infractions are quite large and can, in extreme cases, result in losing your license and malpractice insurance, or even in federal incarceration.
The video platform offered by PSYBooks is HIPAA-compliant and is based on the Zoom platform. Zoom provides top quality and reliability, and also allows you to do video sessions with people in multiple locations. This is ideal for the current “social distancing” environment since, in addition to continuing to see your individual patients, the Zoom platform also allows you to continue to run your groups, family and couples sessions.
Also, since PSYBooks is a bundled product, your video tools will be integrated with other tools you may want to use in your practice, such as credit card processing, appointment reminders, encrypted email and notes. When you schedule a video appointment, your clients will automatically get appointment reminders for their session. You don’t have to set anything up for that to happen. After you conduct your video session, you will be able to run your client’s credit card right from PSYBooks and also write your notes, file insurance and/or give your client a receipt or statement – all integrated in one place with one set of tools.
PSYBooks is offering extended support hours during this time to help answer any questions you have have. You can contact us via phone, online chat, email or set up a video demo. We understand your concerns and are happy to help.