Until 2020, face-to-face communications between healthcare provider and patient were the expected, preferred method of training. The University of Phoenix previously offered online education programs, but the programs still relied on in-person interventions while the majority of education and course content occurred online. Practical concepts prioritized face-to-face communication, and internships encompassed in-person interaction that reflected real-world situations. Generally, most graduates expected to perform services face to face. While a few courses have always included telemedicine and teletherapy, instruction downplayed their real-world application. This all changed in the spring of 2020.
With COVID-19, telemedicine and teletherapy went from being outlier options to the preferred methods of healthcare communications. In some situations, telehealth was the only possibility available for patient care. Before the pandemic, face-to-face services were seen as a necessity, particularly in counseling and mental health. Today, the industry preference is to shift to videoconferencing wherever and whenever possible. Initially, the changeover to telemedicine sought to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But as more people experienced the convenience of telehealth appointments, requests for this format increased even as restrictions against in-person meetings in many states were lifted. However, the sudden, jarring shift from face-to-face appointments to telemedicine left the industry scrambling to address a number of issues including regulations.
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education (CACREP) is the governing body overseeing the accreditation of counseling programs such as those offered by the University of Phoenix. However, while the CACREP helps regulate counseling programs, each state has its own unique healthy industry rules that must be followed when training new counselors. Schools must balance the CACREP’s changing regulations in tandem with existing state rules. Unfortunately, the states have been slower in legislating changes that reflect the needs of our evolving society. However, closer review of many older laws that require face-to-face supervision of mental health counselors in training shows that the laws are unclear about whether face to face oversight requires in-person contact or can be adhered to via videoconferencing.
Because many of these rules are not clear cut, administrators, teachers, and students are attempting to clarify these regulations themselves. The following are three key factors that schools such as the University of Phoenix are contending with:
- Because the University of Phoenix has students in multiple states, each student and postgraduate therapist completing state licensure must check with their own state to determine whether video-conference is acceptable for meeting the face-to-face requirement.
- All program administrators need to conduct their own due diligence to ensure video conferencing programs are aligned with national and state regulations.
- State legislatures should be pressured to align their state licensure requirements with the CACREP and the emerging trends of telehealth.