Telehealth use is growing throughout the country, and will likely continue to do so as a number of states consider expanding the list of eligible providers to include social workers. Part of the reason for this is due to the opioid epidemic; amid a nationwide provider shortage, social workers play a crucial role in patient treatment. When given the ability to use telehealth technology, social workers are able to reach and treat even more patients. As mHealth Intelligence first reported, Maryland is the latest state to consider allowing social workers to use telehealth technology to deliver social work services. The state’s Department of Health outlined the proposal in late June of this year in a Notice of Proposed Action.
Maryland, as mHealth Intelligence notes, is not
the first state to move in this direction; Massachusetts and Minnesota, for
their part, already include social workers on the list of providers allowed to
utilize telehealth technology. Though social workers play an important part in
helping people, state and federal regulations typically restrict their ability
to deliver services via telehealth. But, as mentioned earlier, the trend is
moving towards removing those restrictions, as Maryland is now considering. To
put it simply, the proposal suggests permitting “a licensed certified
social worker-clinical (LCSW-C) or licensed masters social worker (LMSW) under
the supervision of an LCSW-C to ‘provide behavioral health services using
teletherapy’.” The Notice of Proposed Action begins by defining teletherapy.
Maryland does not consider audio-only, e-mail, fax, or text messaging as
acceptable telehealth services; these rules would also apply for social workers
who choose to use teletherapy. Furthermore, social workers are prohibited from treating
a patient based solely on information gathered from an online questionnaire,
the key word being “solely.” Additionally, the proposal lists guidelines for
social workers who desire to use telehealth. Among the guidelines are the ones
you would expect to see: verifying patient identity, obtaining consent, using a
secure network, establishing safety protocols, ensuring the patient is a
Maryland resident, and lastly, maintaining the same standards of care required
of an in-person interaction for the same consultation. None of this departs
from the state’s policies on telehealth use already in place.
In addition to including more providers, states are also contemplating creating an interstate licensure compact for social workers, similar to the ones that exist for clinicians, nurses, psychologists and physical therapists. Maryland has not jumped on that wagon yet; however, it may not be far off if the proposed action takes effect. Maryland is currently accepting remarks and comments on the proposal until July 22, 2019.