Opinion: Let psychologists practice across state lines with telemedicine

LaVone Swanson

Imagine it: You’re prone to anxiety and depression, and you’ve been seeing the same Michigan-based therapist for the past eight years.

Now circumstances are forcing you to move out of state. To add to the anxiety you face over this change, outdated barriers to care make your move even more difficult.

Under current state statutes, you can’t talk to your therapist anymore. No Zoom chats during tough moments. No regular virtual check-ins as you practice cognitive and behavioral strategies for growth.

The latest bill authorizes Michigan’s participation in the multi-state Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact, Swanson writes.

Nope, you’re on your own. You now need to add fuel to the emotional fire of your impending move by being forced to seek out a new therapist in a new state — who will probably, at least for the near future, have to deliver services to you online. Ironic, isn’t it?

Fortunately, the Michigan Legislature is acting to change this issue. A nearly unanimous vote of state lawmakers has moved Senate Bill 758 through a tough lame-duck session and to the governor’s desk.

SB 758 would allow Michigan to join 13 other states in allowing psychologists to practice across state lines via telemedicine. It’s a practice that’s already happening, and it continues to grow as the pandemic has shown us what’s possible in the world of telemedicine.

So now when a student heads off to attend a far-off college or university, when a Michigan resident has to relocate to provide long-term care to an aging parent, or when a military family is moved out of state, they can’t enjoy any consistent treatment from the mental health caregiver they know well.

Recognizing the new technologies available to health care providers in 2020 and beyond, our state lawmakers have acted — very appropriately, we think — to update jurisdictions’ outdated statutory structure. They agree mental health is critical to quality of life and this bill would help improve access for all Michigan residents, no matter where they are.

The bill authorizes Michigan’s participation in the multi-state Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT). This compact was created to facilitate telehealth and temporary in-person, face-to-face practice of psychology across jurisdictional boundaries, while maintaining rigorous standards for providers’ enrollment. In addition to the compact states, 13 others have legislation pending.

This compact is beneficial to both psychologists and patients. It is designed to reduce licensure barriers so psychologists can deliver services across states, and create consistency in the requirements for temporary in-person practices. This does not remove a state’s sovereignty over specific licensure matters.

Supported by countless Michigan families and therapists, SB 758 is the right measure at the right time. COVID-19 has proven that telemedicine can and does work to make a difference; now it’s time to put it into statute.

The only barrier left? Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature. We urge the governor to act to protect the mental health of all Michigan residents, even when they are temporarily located elsewhere. It’s the right thing to do, particularly as the needs of state residents have changed and evolved due to the pandemic. Other similar compacts already exist in related medical fields, so PSYPACT is not without effective precedent.

The time is now — and the bill is ready to sign. We urge this one final step, so the mental health needs of each and every Michigan resident can be protected, no matter what.

LaVone Swanson is executive director of the Michigan Psychological Association.