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Telecommunications and the Clinical Social Worker

The clinical social work community has expressed much interest in telecommunications. Telecommunications is particularly helpful for patients living in remote areas, where mental health services may be limited because of travel distance and time.

Medicare defined telecommunications in the November 2, 1998, Federal Register as "multimedia communications equipment that includes, at a minimum, audio-video equipment permitting two-way, real-time consultation among the patient, consulting practitioner, and referring practitioner as appropriate to the medical needs of the patient and as needed to provide information to and at the direction of the consulting practitioner."

According to Medicare regulations, telephones, facsimile machines, and electronic mail systems do not meet the criteria at this time. Telecommunications also has been referred to as telehealth and videoconferencing. There are currently a limited number of videoconference sites, which are expensive to operate, in the United States. The clinical social worker goes to a videoconference site and provides psychotherapy services using a two way audio-video link to patients who are at another videoconference site at a distant location. A face-to-face intervention is helpful prior to videoconferencing. Many mental health professionals use telecommunications for treatment and follow-up care.

Medicare reimburses clinical social workers who are Medicare providers for telecommunication services. Other insurance carriers also may reimburse clinical social workers for their services in this area. For Medicare payment information on telecommunications services, contact the Medicare carrier in your region.

It is expected that as technology advances, telecommunications will become accessible and affordable through the Internet, thus giving more clinical social workers the option of using it in their daily practice.

For additional information on this subject, contact National NASW’s Division of Professional Development and Advocacy. Call (202) 336-8256.


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