Adopted by the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Social Workers on October 22, 2013.

The Board of Registration of Social Workers (“the Board”) voted today to adopt the following practice advisory about providing social worker services by electronic means.

This practice advisory does not have the force of law or regulation, but is intended to provide social workers and the public with a recommended protocol to follow in situations where social work services are not provided in the traditional face-to-face practice setting.  The Board will look to this practice advisory in considering matters within its scope. 

Scope

This Practice Advisory addresses the provision of social worker services by electronic means of communication (“e-practice”), which includes but is not limited to:  telephone calls, internet video conferencing , texting, and electronic mail.

Practice Guidance

In response to inquiries from licensees and other interested parties about providing social work services by e-practice, the Board has reviewed and considered appropriate protocols for providing such services.  Social workers must recognize that as he or she moves away from direct contact with clients, the social worker loses the value of interacting with the client which comes with traditional face-to-face practice setting.  While e-practice is not encouraged by the Board, the Board recongnizes that in certain circumstances e-practice can be used as a complement to an existing face-to-face therapeutic relationship OR when warranted by extenuating circumstances.

Licensees are reminded that all of the statutes and regulations that govern traditional Social Work are still applicable when treating a client via e-practice.  The Board, therefore, recommends that licensees conduct the initial evaluation of a client in person before treating a client via e-practice, and conduct subsequent sessions in person periodically thereafter to best service the needs of their clients.

Treating clients via e-practice obligates licensees to carefully consider and address diverse issues such as structuring the relationship, obtaining informed consent, maintaining confidentiality, determining the basis for professional judgments, determining boundaries of competence, maintaining computer security, avoiding harm, dealing with fees and financial arrangements, and advertising.

License:

In order to provide social work services in Massachusetts, you must be licensed by the Board or be exempt under the provisions of M.G.L. c. 112, §134.  In determining whether social work services are being rendered in Massachusetts, the Board considers licensure with the Board necessary when the Patient/Client is located within the Commonwealth.  If a Massachusetts licensee renders social work services via e-practice to an out-of-state client, the Board recommends that the licensee contact the social worker licensing board in the state where the  the client is located  to determine whether such practice is permitted in that jurisdiction.  

Confidentiality:

Licensees are advised to review M.G.L. c. 112, s. 130-137, 258 CMR s. 22.00 (Confidentiality of Client Communications and Records), and the NASW Code of Ethics (Ethical Standards 1.07(i) and (m) addressing assuring confidentiality of communications with clients).  The NASW Code of Ethics can be found here:  http://www.socialworkers.org/pubs/code/code.asp.