Telepsychology task force work progresses

APA/ASPPB/ABAIT Joint Task Force is in the process of developing professional guidelines for psychologists

By Communications Staff

March 29, 2012—“Telehealth services” can be broadly defined as including all interactions that are not in-person between health care professionals and their patients. Differing definitions of telehealth appear in various federal and state laws, reimbursement policies, organization or facility policies or treatment guidelines, with the definition changing depending on the purpose and/or coverage terms of the law or policy at issue.

State Leadership Conference attendees gathered to learn more about the APA/ASPPB/ABAIT Joint Task Force on the Development of Telepsychology Guidelines for Psychologists, which formed in early 2011 and held its first two meetings in July and November.

Practice Directorate staff members Ron Palomares, PhD, assistant executive director for governance operations and Deborah Baker, JD, director of legal & regulatory policy, joined Alex Siegel, JD, PhD, Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) director, and Jana Martin, PhD, CEO of APA Insurance Trust to discuss the progress and goals of the task force.

The task force is in the process of developing professional guidelines for psychologists to help them navigate the numerous ethical, regulatory, legal and other practice-related issues that arise in using technology to deliver psychological services. The three organizations involved in this collaborative effort have appointed members to the 10-member task force. The task force members represent the American Psychological Association (four members), the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (four members) and the American Psychological Association Insurance Trust (two members).

Underscoring the importance of the topic and this work, this is the first time a formal APA collaborative working group has involved three different organizations, explained Palomares.

The task force has developed a draft timeline for its work, outlining the key content areas for guidelines and establishing four guideline writing teams to begin drafting guidelines. The writing teams have prepared their first drafts with the entire task force beginning its review of those initial drafts during the spring of 2012. The second step will be to finalize and disseminate the draft guidelines widely during a public comment period that is anticipated to occur in late spring/early summer of 2012.

There will be a public comment period hosted by APA during which the public can submit feedback about the draft guidelines electronically through the APA website, as a well as a planned session offered at the 2012 APA Convention in Orlando, FL. The APA Convention session will focus on presenting details of the newly drafted telepsychology guidelines, discuss feedback received during the public comment period and provide a face-to-face opportunity for APA members to engage in dialogue with the task force members about the draft guidelines.

Responding to an audience question on the likelihood of acceptance from state licensing boards, Siegel explained that a goal of the task force is to educate licensing boards and psychologists about the issue.

When the draft guidelines are published for public comment, the task force will be seeking feedback from APA membership and the public at large, Baker said. She encouraged the audience to view these guidelines broadly to include a wide range of technologies.

“Given the rapid evolution of telehealth technology and the fact that APA guidelines are reviewed every 10 years, it would not be helpful to psychologists to link these guidelines to any particular types of technology,” said Baker. “The considerations for incorporating technology into psychological practice ought to transcend the type of technology used.”

And while there seems to be growing coverage by payers for telehealth services, reimbursement still differs widely among Medicare, Medicaid and private payers across states, causing confusion for the health provider community.

While not every concern will be resolved by the task force, its charge is to develop practice guidelines as well as related documents that may include model regulatory guidance (encompassing interjurisdictional practice concerns) and risk management principles. The guidance is expected to benefit the profession, says Baker.