The rise in telecommunications and online file sharing has had a dramatic impact on how health professionals communicate with their patients. Though I'll be focusing on what mental health professionals are doing, this is really true for all health professionals in general. Along with email, treatment providers are relying more and more on text messaging, videoconferencing, online chatrooms, and other ways of interacting without any need for face to face interactions. There is even a surge of interest in online therapy with providers dealing with clients living in another city, or another country if necessary.
But how secure is all of this electronic exchange of information, especially if it involves confidential matters? Though ethical guidelines for mental health professionals (along with all other health professionals) call for proper security to avoid violating client privacy, how many treatment providers understand enough about this new technology to avoid problems? Some professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) have released comprehensive guidelines for their members though they are still a work in progress and will probably need updating as the technology changes. The Ontario Psychological Association (OPA) has just released Guidelines for Best Practices in Electronic Communication which is also useful even though they aren't binding for non-members.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post