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Senate committee advances communication regulations for counselors, social workers

Senate committee advances communication regulations for counselors, social workers

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
February 26, 2014
[post_thumbnail] Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, is chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which has advanced two bills dealing with communication confidentiality.

The Idaho Senate Health and Welfare Committee has unanimously approved by voice vote two measures that will expand communication-related regulations placed upon mental health counselors and social workers.

“Our board is working with other mental health boards to deal with this communication technology,” noted Roger Hales, an attorney who works with the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses (IBOL).

Hales told committee members that House Bill 354 would expand the powers of the state licensing board of professional counselors and marriage and family therapists to promulgate rules regarding therapists’ use of email, voice, text and video data communication. “This bill is being brought forth by practitioners themselves,” he said. “The lack of these rules puts practitioners at risk.”

House Bill 355 would grant similar expanded authority to the state board of social work examiners about social workers’ use of communication technologies. “I guess I’d say the same things about this bill as I have said about the previous bill,” Hales testified. “The practitioners want this.”

According to IBOL staff member Maury Ellsworth, the two boards behind House bills 354 and 355 are each free-standing boards created by state statute, both of which possess the power to grant and revoke licenses from practitioners in their respective professions. The boards are also funded with the licensing fees and rules’ penalty fines that they levy against their practitioners.

“The boards serve the public and the practitioners,” Ellsworth told IdahoReporter.com. “Obviously practitioners are well served when the public is well served, and the public is served when practitioners are qualified and professional.”

Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, asked “why do you need a rule to use communication technology?”

“It comes down to the guidelines,” Hales replied. “Things like what type of security should you use. What kind of informed consent should you obtain. When you’re counseling somebody long distance it’s important to set guidelines to protect that communication because it’s supposed to remain confidential. It’s being requested by the practitioners. The practitioners really want this.”

“Can you give me a couple of examples of the kind of abuse you’re trying to stop?” Nuxoll asked.

“When you’re using somebody’s email and in a counseling relationship, there is potential abuse with that,” Hales replied.

“Suppose a counselor has a message to pass on to a client and a counselor is busy and gives it to a secretary or assistant, which is a breach of confidentiality right there,” Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said to Hales. “Is that where the need for these guidelines could come up?”

“Yes, that is a good example of what we’re talking about,” Hales responded.

“It seems to me that all of medicine, all of health care, is taking this telemedicine approach and I presume this is why we would need these rules,” said Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, chair of the committee.

“Mr. Chairman, that is well stated and I agree,” Hales said.

Idaho Reporter.com asked Hales after the committee hearing which Idaho practitioners had formulated the legislation and were asking for the additional rules and regulations.

“It’s really a part of a broader national movement,” Hales replied. “All the state boards are talking with each other and asking for these rules. It’s really for the protection of the practitioners themselves.”

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