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SkypeThe long-awaited announcement has finally come, but it has a twist.  In April, Microsoft announced a reinvented version of Skype that will bring the popular, consumer-facing video chat system in line with the needs and requirements of videoconferencing for business, which includes health care. Skype was started in 2003, was acquired by Microsoft several years ago, and now serves more than 300 million people globally.

Controversy around Skype’s adequacy with respect to privacy and security has raged for years. We at the TeleMental Health Institute have offered a number of articles and educational programs  to help our colleagues understand the limitations of Skype by outlining concerns related to security problems and hackings in articles such as Another Skype Security Problem Surfaces Today only to be followed by Skype’s Security Breach – November 14, 2012. We also published an article drawing attention to much of the information we had been gathering from our trainees at the Institute and published  an article encouraging practitioners billing for Skype sessions to double check their billing. Many seemingly were omit proper notation of “place of service” on HCFA forms and were simply billing insurance carriers for sessions as if they were being conducted in-person: Are You Committing Insurance Fraud with Skype Billing?

We then publicized announcements made by the legal offices of the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychological Association about Skype’s lack of adherence to US federal mandates as outlined by HIPAA: NASW Frowns on the Use of Skype for Mental Health Practice and American Psychological Association (APA) Issues Warning about Skype & HIPAA Compliance, and went into a fair amount of other information in this article, The Perils of Using Skype (as Published in the Psychiatric Times). Skype again was in the news when an Oklahoma Medical Board identified the use of Skype as a cause for disciplinary action against a physician prescribing medication for a substance abuse patient who died. We produced a very-well attended webinar called, Skype and Related Practices Found Unacceptable by Oklahoma Medical Board which is now in our On-demand Library of Webinars.

What’s the “Twist with Microsoft’s Announcement of a Health-Grade Version of Skype?”

Microsoft isn’t just releasing a new version of Skype. It has partnered with MDLive to offer telehealth and telemedicine. According to mHealthNews:

Randy Parker, chief executive officer of Florida-based MDLIVE, said in an April 13 prepared statement that the partnership combines Microsoft’s ‘secure video and voice platform,”’with MDLive’s ‘world class network of physicians.’ Microsoft’s chief health strategy officer Dennis Schmuland, MD, said the deal holds potential to reach ‘millions of patients.’

The mHealthnews article continued with this information,

Under the partnership with Microsoft, MDLIVE will soon launch an app for the Windows Phone, and Microsoft will be offering Surface Pro 3 tablets on which users can access MDLIVE.

What Does this Announcement Mean for Telemental Health?

Until Skype makes its newer version available to the health care community at large, nothing has changed. Professionals in all arenas will do well to be fully informed of the law and its ethical ramifications of any and all technologies used with clients and patients. Risk assessments that evaluate a number of device and software features must take into account issues such as audit trails, breach notification tools, Business Associate Agreements and much more. For details and clear suggestions for best practices, you may benefit from this On-Demand Webinar: FREE and Low-Cost, HIPAA-Compliant Alternatives to Skype

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