Online Therapy Platforms and the Matter of Privacy – 3 Things You Should Know

Online therapy platforms have become more popular in recent years, and it makes sense as to why this is happening.

These services offer therapeutic support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are convenient for clients because all that is required is a few taps on a smartphone or tablet. And for therapists and counselors, online therapy is another way to expand the scope of their practices and earn income.

However, despite these benefits, there are still some matters that both clients and therapists should keep in mind—especially when it comes to the matter of privacy.

Here are three things that you should know.

1. Do Online Therapy Platforms Comply with the Law?

There are many laws and regulations that govern how therapists do their jobs, whether online or off. One important Federal law is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

This law, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is meant to “assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected while allowing the flow of health information needed to provide and promote high-quality health care and to protect the public’s health and well-being.” This includes setting “standards for the electronic exchange, privacy, and security of health information.”

HIPAA is important because it governs how medical professionals, including therapists, use and share information about patients and clients. There may be other applicable state laws and regulations as well. So whether you are a therapist or client, do your research to determine if an online therapy platform has a history of HIPAA violations.

2. What Happens to My Data?

Along with HIPAA compliance, the question of what happens to your data held by the online therapy platform is also important. For instance, you and your therapist primarily message each other back and forth via the platform’s messaging tool. What happens to that information when you close out of the app or when the therapeutic relationship ends?

This question brings to mind issues of information privacy that social medial platforms are also facing, along with their users. When in doubt, research the platform’s website and user agreement carefully. Do your own independent search about this issue to see if other users of the platform had any problems or difficulties.

Also, ask about what the platform does to protect your data from hacking. The last thing you want is for your information to be stolen, especially from a platform in which you are placing a lot of trust.

3. Who Is in Charge?

Finally, consider who is in charge and running the show when it comes to online therapy platforms. Is it a therapist who also happened to be a whiz at technology? Or are they a group of internet geniuses who know how to build a tech startup, but don’t actually have a therapy background? It could be too that those who own and run these businesses are nameless individuals.

Remember, online therapy platforms are first-and-foremost private companies. They are assuming a role as a facilitator between clients and therapists. However, they are also responsible to shareholders, investors, and others who have a stake in the company. Knowing who these people are (as best to your abilities) will help with understanding their motivations and the backstory of the platform.

Online therapy platforms do offer a tremendous opportunity for both clients and therapists to access and provide therapeutic support. However, as with anything that involves the internet, privacy issues should be on your mind. Know your rights, do your homework, and ask questions before connecting with a service. It will help you feel that you are making the best decision for your mental health.

If you would like to find out more about my approach to online therapy, please feel free to contact us, 256-686-9195.

Author
Joshua Howell, MS, LPC, NCC, AADC, ICAADC, SAP, SAE

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