Most mental health professionals starting a telepractice don’t realize that there’s much more to telehealth than jumping on Skype and continuing business as usual. Many things can and do go wrong with telehealth.
Our mission at the TeleMental Health Institute is to keep you updated with the many simple solutions developed by leading researchers and practitioners since 1959 for telemental health. Today, we’ll discuss one potentially costly mistake that can lead to a variety of negative consequences: zoning.
One of the hidden traps that can await you involves zoning requirements. More specifically, as we discuss in our reimbursement course, Medicare and other insurance payers most often require that the clients/patients receive services at a qualified originating site (e.g., acute access hospital, corrections facility, community mental health center, skilled nursing facility) — and not their homes. In contrast, telemental health professionals can obtain reimbursement for providing services from a home office because Medicare and 3rd party payers allow professionals to register their home offices as distant sites.
One of the legal issues that is too often ignored is the zoning of one’s home office. The average mental health professional venturing into telepractice does not realize that their home needs to be legally zoned for business. For most, this won’t be a problem; however, cities and counties have zoning regulations that could affect a professional’s ability to work from home. Imagine the frustration that can be created by avoiding this simple step. You spend hours completing your Medicare credentialing application only to receive a letter wanting to determine if your county, city, or state require a business license for you to practice.
You call your state taxation office and learn that the state does not require a business license because your license to practice is sufficient (this is not the case in all states, some require both a business license and a license to practice). But the state informs you that you need to check with your city and county to determine if they require a business license. You call both city and county offices and are told that all you need is your license to practice (again this can vary by location), only to be told that you need to call the city zoning office to determine if your home is zoned for business.
What? You’re not planning on posting a 10-foot, neon sign in your front yard or leveling your back yard to pave a parking lot. Why would your home need to be zoned for business? Again, this is something that varies by county, city, and state. And like we mentioned earlier, it’s typically not a factor that will interfere with your ability to work from home. However, it’s better to determine if this is a barrier for you prior to spending oodles of time preparing credentialing applications and investing in setting up your telemental health office.
What About You?
If we had to place odds on your telemental health home office, we’d bet that you are zoned for business. But on the off chance that you’re not, we want to help you avoid the headache and heartache of lost investments in time and money. If your home office isn’t zoned for business, there is probably something you can do. You can work with zoning officials and request that your home be rezoned, which is sure to be a time-consuming process.