Psychology Today, the therapist profile giant which dominates search results, has recently released a teletherapy videoconferencing app. The app is called Psychology Today Sessions. While it passes the sniff test for HIPAA-friendliness, we have a couple concerns.
At the time of writing, it’s very difficult to find any information about Psychology Today Sessions. Most therapists know about it only because they received an email directly from PT.
We did find one enterprising practice consultant who posted a YouTube video about it here. Readers may find that video very useful to get an idea of what the app is all about.
Psychology Today Sessions and HIPAA: The Sniff Test
The basic sniff test for any online therapy service is this: will the app’s company execute a HIPAA-compliant Business Associate Agreement with its customers? (That’s us.)
Psychology Today Sessions passes that sniff test. That’s the good news. But there’s a slightly interesting twist.
Liath Dalton, our Deputy Director, got her hands on a copy of the Business Associate Agreement which Psychology Today uses with Sessions customers. Dalton has reviewed dozens of BAA contracts in her time at Person Centered Tech. She reports that the Sessions BAA which she got for review is very similar to the sample BAA document provided on the Health and Human Services website. See that sample document here.
While it’s not bad to use the government’s sample document, it is very odd. According to Dalton, companies are typically very particular about the contents of BAA documents. Thus, they rarely look anything like the sample document provided on the government website. To us, this makes PT’s product feel rushed.
For software which is intended to be an online therapy platform, that gives us pause.
Psychology Today’s Directory and HIPAA
According to support personnel at Psychology Today, the HIPAA BAA only applies to the Sessions app, itself. It does not apply to the therapist profile. (Interestingly, the BAA document doesn’t specify this. That’s another point for pause, says Dalton.)
This may not seem important at first glance, but it is.
The Psychology Today profile service includes a communication feature. Specifically, members of the public can send messages to therapists through their PT profile page. These potential client messages are ferried along by PT’s servers and turned into conventional, nonsecure emails which are then sent to the therapist’s email address.
In our long-standing opinion, this feature is clearly a HIPAA-related problem for therapists. Fortunately, one can deactivate this problematic feature. Our friends at Hushmail have a post in which they describe a secure alternative that we often recommend, as well.
Psychology Today, and some others, may argue that this contact feature is not covered by HIPAA because it is meant for initial contact only. The argument that initial contact messages are outside of what HIPAA covers is a weak one. We strongly urge all colleagues to carefully consider if they wish to depend on its validity.
Psychology Today Sessions and Trust
Ultimately, we all have to decide if we trust Psychology Today to carry our teletherapy sessions.
Their HIPAA-problematic therapy profiles have always made us feel shaky on this point. Between that and the small effort put into their BAA document, we feel unwilling to trust the service until we know more details about it.
So our conclusion is: wait and see. Don’t use Psychology Today Sessions until we have better evidence of trustability. In the meantime, there are a ton of good alternatives for your sessions.