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HPA Convention 2011
Convention Morning Programs: October 28, 2011

Adventures on the Electronic Frontier: Ethics and 
Risk Management in the Digital Era  (6 CE)

Jeffrey Younggren, Ph.D.

Most of us have heard about the dual meanings of the Chinese ideograph for crisis: danger and opportunity. This is a great descriptor of the situation psychology finds itself in with regard to the rapid development of new electronic technologies that could revolutionize the way we provide psychological services. The provision of remote (i.e., internet or telephone based) psychological services is developing rapidly and has been identified as a priority by a number of federal agencies. The Department of Defense currently uses these technologies to evaluate and/or treat its personnel in both combat and noncombat settings. In addition, insurance companies and Medicare are already reimbursing these services in limited circumstances. Psychologists are already involved in this process. 

The current regulatory system, however, was designed for an environment in which services are provided in person with treatment provided face-to-face. Currently, this dated system has no provisions for treatment to be provided otherwise and is struggling with how to deal with and regulate telepsychology. Consequently, how the regulatory environment will respond to all of this is quite gray at this point. On the one hand, the system is conservative, based on state regulation and geared to protecting consumers within states. On the other hand, everyone realizes that this technology is both revolutionary and has enormous potential to create progressive advancements which cross regulatory borders, raising questions about statutory authority and its applicability. 

With the expansion of the digital age even psychologists who have no interest in providing some or all their services remotely are being confronted by issues having to do with the new internet and computer-based technologies. Facebook, Google, cyber reviews and attacks, email, texting, Twitter, Skype, real time audio and visual technology, encryption and computer security are impacting almost all psychologists. Many questions regarding the internet and digital communication have arisen for psychologists and include: Can I have a Facebook page? What can I put on it? How do I secure my electronic communications? How much of my private, non-professional life is appropriate to reveal to the public? How do I control access to my private and personal information? 

The Trust’s experience in giving workshops and taking risk management calls indicates that psychologists are not fully prepared to deal with these developments, particularly those who were not raised in the digital world. Regardless, even psychologists unfamiliar or uninvolved with these new technologies know that they are revolutionizing communication and creating a variety of new professional challenges from which no psychologist can escape. 

This workshop will address the above issues starting with a point in time review of the current status of digital psychology and make predictions based on the current state of affairs as well as review the potential professional and economic advantages of using telepsychology. It will provide guidance to psychologists who wish to take full advantage of this technology before the rules are established, a circumstance that will likely expose them to some risk. 

Additionally, the workshop will review the current ethical rules, standards and underlying principles dealing with telepsychology and online services. It will then look at relevant laws, both current and in development and will address relevant court decisions, government policies, jurisdictional issues and licensing board responses. 

In summary, this workshop will provide those who attend with an overview of the beginnings of the evolution of regulatory policy for both psychologists interested in using telepsychology and those who are less prone to embrace this new technology. Finally, and most importantly, this cutting edge workshop will provide practitioners with a method of identifying risks and with a process for developing a risk management strategy based on the approach presented in past workshops and in the Trust publication “Assessing and Managing Risk in Psychological Practice: An Individualized Approach.”

Learning Objectives:

  1. Participants will be able to apply basic ethical principles to evaluate risks, benefits, and appropriateness of using various electronic communication and social networking media in their professional practice in a variety of situations.

  2. Participants will be able to identify ethical, legal, and disciplinary trends concerning electronic communication that will allow them to anticipate, plan, and adjust their practices accordingly.

  3. Participants will be able to evaluate when and how to provide remote professional services, therapeutic, and otherwise to clients in a way that minimizes disciplinary risk.

  4. Participants will be able to understand, apply, and integrate the laws and legal principles governing remote practice within and between states.
  5. Participants will be able to identify various kinds of professional credentials that will enable them to increase their professional mobility.
  6. Participants will be able to develop amendments to their informed consent and documentation and professional consultation policies to accommodate remote practice and electronic communication.

  7. Participants will be able to identify important issues regarding privacy and confidentiality created by electronic communication media and technologies that present risks to clients so they can clearly discuss these risks with clients who wish to utilize these technologies.

  8. Participants will be able to evaluate and improve their competency to utilize electronic technology and provide remote services to their clients.

  9. Participants will be able to discuss and apply specific, positive, ethically based, strategies to manage the disciplinary risks presented by remote electronic communication and professional service delivery based on documentation, consultation, informed consent, and demonstration of competency.

About the speaker:

A Fellow of the American Psychological Association and a Distinguished Member of the National Academy of Practice, Dr. Younggren is a clinical and forensic psychologist, who practices in Rolling Hills Estates, California. He also is a Clinical Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine. 

Dr. Younggren served as a member and chair of the Ethics Committees of the California Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association. He consults to various licensing boards on ethics and standards of care, and he qualifies as an expert in criminal, civil, and administrative proceedings. 

Recently, Dr. Younggren testified regarding the fallibility of memory secondary to trauma and post traumatic stress disorder before the United Nations Bosnian War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague.

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