The use of diverse types of electronic communications is increasingly common in our society, and many individuals believe this is the preferred method of communication with others, whether their relationships are social or professional. However, many of these common modes of communication put your privacy at risk, and can be inconsistent with the law and standards of my profession. Consequently, my electronic communications policy has been prepared to assure the security and confidentiality of your treatment, and to assure that it is consistent with professional ethics and the law.
To maintain clarity regarding our use of electronic modes of communication during your treatment, I have prepared this document outlining my office policies related to the use of text messaging, email, and Social Media. Reviewing this policy will help you to understand how I conduct myself on the Internet as a mental health professional, as well as how you can expect me to respond to various interactions that may occur between us on the Internet.
As modern technology develops and the Internet changes, there may be times when I need to update this policy. I will notify you in writing of any policy changes, and provide you with a copy of the updated policy upon request. The most current version of this document is in its entirety on my website.
It is important that we can communicate and keep the confidential space that is vital to psychological services. Please speak with me about any concerns you have regarding my preferred communication methods.
NON-SECURE ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS
While it may be convenient during treatment to communicate by email, text message (e.g. “SMS”) or other electronic methods of communication, be advised that these methods, in their typical form, are not confidential means of communication. Therefore, I prefer to use email communication and text messaging only with your permission, and only for administrative purposes unless we have made another agreement. If you use these methods to communicate with me, there is a reasonable chance that a third party may be able to intercept and eavesdrop on those messages. The types of parties that may intercept these messages include, but are not limited to:
- People in your home or other environments, who can access your phone, computer, or other devices that you use to read and write messages
- Your employer, if you use your work email to communicate with me
- Third parties on the Internet such as server administrators and others who monitor Internet traffic
If you wish to communicate with me by email or text message, please read and complete the optional consent form included at the end of these office policies. Unless you have signed the Consent for Transmission of Protected Health Information by Non-Secure Means form, I will not respond to email communications or text messages. If there are people in your life that you do not want to access these communications, please talk with me about ways to keep your communications safe and confidential.
In general, email is a non-secure form of communication. I maintain HIPAA Business Associate Agreements with Google and Microsoft that provide me with secure email exchange servers, as well as Help Scout that provides me with secure electronic email support services. Because of these agreements, Google Inc, Microsoft Corporation, and Help Scout are obligated by federal law to protect these records from unauthorized use or disclosure.
Although my own email server is secure, I cannot be assured that yours is. Therefore, I prefer to use email communication and text messaging only with your permission, and only for administrative purposes unless we have made another agreement. This means that email exchanges and text messages with my office should be limited to things like setting or changing appointments, billing matters, and other related issues.
If you choose to communicate with me by email, be aware that all emails are retained in the logs of our Internet service providers (ISP), both yours and mine. While it is unlikely that someone will be looking at these logs, they are, in theory, available to be read by the system administrator(s) of the ISP. You should also know that any emails that I receive from you, and any responses that I send to you, become a part of my record.
Please do not email me about clinical matters, because email is not a confidential way to contact me. If you need to discuss a clinical matter with me, please feel free to call me so we can discuss it on the phone, or to wait until we can discuss it during your sessions. The telephone or face-to-face context is simply much more secure as a mode of communication. If you need to send a confidential file such as a PDF or another digital document, please make use of my secure online portal where possible.
Because text messaging is a non-secure and impersonal mode of communication, I do not send nor do I respond to text messages from anyone receiving services from me, unless we have made other arrangements. Therefore, unless you have signed the Consent for Transmission of Protected Health Information by Non-Secure Means form, please do not use SMS (mobile phone text messaging) to contact me.
THIRD-PARTY ACCESS TO COMMUNICATIONS
Please know that when you use electronic communications methods, such as email, texting, online video, etc., there are various technicians and administrators who maintain these services, and who may conceivably have access to the content of those communications.
Of special consideration are work email addresses. If you use your work email to communicate with me, your employer may access our email communications. There may be similar issues involved in school email or other email accounts associated with organizations that you are affiliated with.
Additionally, people with access to your computer, mobile phone, and/or other devices may also have access to your email and/or text messages. Please take a moment to contemplate the risks involved if any of these persons were to access the messages we exchange with each other.
My Electronic Health Record system provides a patient portal – accessible through my website – that allows us both to save valuable time by allowing you to schedule appointments and make online payments for services, as well as to fill out and electronically submit protected health information securely using encryption and other privacy technologies (see Electronic Health Records section of your Client Services Agreement). Use of the patient portal is entirely optional, will not cost you money, and does require some initial setup.
I do not communicate with, or contact, any of my clients through social media or networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. In addition, if I discover that I have accidentally established an online relationship with you, I will cancel that relationship. This is because these types of casual social contacts can create significant security risks for you.
I do participate on various social networks for personal and business marketing purposes, but not in my professional capacity as a Psychologist. If you have an online presence, there is a possibility that you may encounter me online by accident. If that occurs, please discuss it with me during our next session. I have researched this issue in depth, and it is my conclusion that any social media communications with clients have a high potential to compromise the professional relationship. In addition, please do not try to contact me in this way – I will not respond, and will terminate any online contact no matter how accidental.
Friending: I do not accept Friend or Contact requests from current or former clients on social media or networking sites. I believe that including clients as social networking contacts may not only compromise client confidentiality and our respective privacy, but also blur the boundaries of our professional relationship. To all who may view my Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram Friends, Followers or Contacts lists, be advised that you will not find any client names on that list. If you have questions about my Friending policies, please bring them up when we meet, and we can talk more about it.
Following: I do publish a Practice News blog on my website, for which there is an RSS feed, and I occasionally post psychology- and/or practice-related news on social media. I only follow other health professionals and informational news sources on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I do not follow current or former clients on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. You will not find any client names on my Following lists. In addition, viewing clients’ online activities without their consent, and without our explicit arrangement towards a specific purpose, could potentially have a negative influence on the working relationship. If there are things from your online life that you wish to share with me, please bring them into our sessions where we can view and explore them together, during the therapy hour.
Interacting: Please do not use messaging on social media or networking sites to contact me. These sites are non-secure, and I may not read these messages in a timely fashion. Do not use Wall postings, @replies, or other means of engaging with me publicly online if we have an established client/psychologist/coaching/consultant relationship. Engaging with me in these ways can compromise your privacy, and may also create the possibility that the exchanges will need to be documented and archived in my client records, becoming a part of your legal, medical record.
I have a website that you are free to access. I use it for professional reasons to provide information to others about me and my practice. You are welcome to access and review the information that I have on my website and, if you have questions about it, we should discuss this during your sessions. My website includes a contact form for emailing my office (see Email Communications section above).
I will not use web searches to gather information about you without your permission. I believe that this violates your privacy rights; However, I understand that you might choose to gather information about me in this way.
Today, there exists an incredible amount of information available about individuals on the internet, much of which may be known to that person and some of which may be completely inaccurate or unknown. If you encounter any information about me through web searches, or in any other fashion for that matter, please discuss this with me during our time together so that we can discuss the information, its accuracy, and its potential impact on your treatment.
Although it is not a regular part of my practice to search for clients on Google, Facebook, or other Internet search engines, exceptions may be made during times of crisis. If I have reason to suspect that you are in danger, and you have not been in touch with me via our usual means (coming to appointments, phone, or email), it is possible that I might use a search for you on the Internet (to find you, to find someone close to you, or to check on your recent status updates) as a necessary part of ensuring your welfare. These are unusual situations and, if I am relegated to using such means of gathering information, I will fully document and discuss the event with you in person as early as is feasible.
BUSINESS REVIEW SITES
A recent trend has been for clients to review their healthcare providers on various websites. You may find my psychology practice on sites such as Google My Business, Yelp, Healthgrades, Yahoo Local, Bing, or other places which list businesses. Some of these sites include areas in which users rate their providers and add reviews. Many of these sites comb search engines for business listings that are automatically added to their listings regardless of whether the business has added itself to the site.
Principle 5.05 of the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code states that it is unethical for psychologists to solicit testimonials. If you should find my listing on any of these sites, please know that my listing is not a request for a testimonial, rating, or endorsement from you as my former or current client. Please do not rate or review my work with you on any of these websites while you are in still in therapy. Doing so has a significant potential to damage our ability to work together, and jeopardizes your own privacy.
Also, due to confidentiality restrictions, mental health professionals cannot respond to such reviews, comments, and related errors. If you encounter reviews of me, or any professional with whom you are working, please share it with me so that we can discuss it and its potential impact on your therapy.
You have a right to express yourself on any site you wish but, to ensure your confidentiality, I cannot respond to any review, positive or negative, on any of these sites. I urge you to take your own privacy as seriously as I take my commitment to your confidentiality.
Please be aware that if you use social media or business review sites to communicate indirectly your feelings about our work and/or relationship, there is a high probability that I will never receive your message. If we are working together, I expect that you will directly bring your feelings about our work into the therapy process. This is an important part of therapy, even if you decide that we are not a good fit.
None of this is meant to keep you from sharing that you are in therapy with me wherever and with whomever you like. Confidentiality means that I cannot tell people that you are my client, and my Ethics Code prohibits me from requesting testimonials, but you are free to tell anyone you wish that I am your provider, or how you feel about the therapy that I have provided to you, by any means of your choosing.
If you choose to write something on social media or a business review site, please keep in mind that you may be sharing personally revealing information in a public forum. I encourage you to create a pseudonym that is not linked to your regular email address or social networks, for your own privacy and protection.
If you feel I have done something harmful or unethical, and you do not feel comfortable discussing it with me, you can always contact the appropriate the state regulatory body.
If you use location-based services (LBS) on a mobile phone or device, please be aware of the privacy issues related to using these services, including most mobile apps and websites. If you have GPS tracking enabled on your device, it is possible that others may surmise that you are a client due to your intentional or passive check-ins at my office. Please be aware of this risk if you are intentionally “checking in” at my office, or if you have a passive LBS application enabled on your device.