Psychologists in the United States must be aware of the security and privacy risks of providing therapy online — both via email and video. They are governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and in many cases, even more stringent state privacy laws.

Marlene Maheu, PhD, executive director of the Telemental Health Institute, an online telemental training organization, says that video vendors who have gone on the record as being HIPAA compliant include companies such as Tandberg and Polycom, which have provided equipment to correctional facilities, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, clinics and other medical institutions for decades.

“Smaller, less expensive online video vendors also readily declare HIPAA compliance, including Vyzit, Vidyo, Visual Telehealth, and Damaka,” Maheu says. “Many of these services can start a video call on a smart phone, transfer it to a laptop and then to a desktop computer, all without dropping the call.” However, free computer voice and video chat programs such as Skype and GoogleTalk, while used by some practitioners, have not yet been identified as HIPAA compliant.

Psychologists seeking companies claiming to offer HIPAA compliant, encrypted email service may want to look at programs such as Hushmail and others.

—A. Novotney