New Behavioral Health Rules for Telehealth Services

Health care services delivered remotely via video conferencing or other similar means have come a long way since the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council convened its first Telemedicine Task Force in 2010. Since then, telehealth services have continued to expand and improve health care access to more Marylanders across the state.  In 2017, the General Assembly passed legislation requiring the Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists to adopt telehealth regulations. In January 2019, the first-ever Maryland rules governing the practice of providing teletherapy services were proposed by the Board, and just earlier this month they were finalized and adopted. 

The new rules apply to all licensed behavioral health providers providing teletherapy services, including professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and alcohol and drug counselors. Also, the new rules apply to teletherapy services if either the therapist is located in Maryland or if the client is located in Maryland.  This means they would apply even where the Maryland-licensed therapist is not physically located in the state, but the client is; or where the therapist is located in the state, but the client is located out-of-state. 

In addition, the rules require that providers providing teletherapy services have certain policies and procedures in place, such as policies that provide for:

  • Verifying the identification of the client
  • Obtaining informed consent specific to teletherapy services
  • Secure and private teletherapy connection and protection of associated data in compliance with federal and state cybersecurity and privacy laws
  • Notifying clients in the event of a data breach
  • Establishing safety protocols in the event of an emergency, including obtaining contact information for emergency services at the client’s location.

The rules also provide for certain guidelines for the teletherapy session, including:

  • Obtaining an alternative method of contacting the client in case of a technological failure
  • Identifying the client’s specific location
  • For the initial teletherapy session, disclosing the counselor or therapist’s name, location, license number, and contact information
  • Identifying all persons present at each location and confirming that they are permitted to hear the client’s health information.

Therefore, it is critical that behavioral health providers who are considering providing telehealth services as part of their practice -- and certainly those who are already doing so -- take the necessary steps to have in place policies and procedures that ensure compliance with these new rules. 

For questions about this article or any other health care law related matter, please contact an attorney in our Health Care Law practice group.