By Carol Mapp, LCSW and Honey Sheff, PhD
In the age of COVID-19 and mandated social distancing, collaborative professionals are finding ways to reach out to their clients and conduct collaborative meetings in different locations. There are numerous video platforms such as Zoom, WebEx, and GoToMeeting that provide live two-way interaction between collaborative teams and their divorcing clients. The use of video conferencing has certain challenges that must be considered before its use, namely, attorneys and mental health neutrals alike must utilize HIPAA compliant platforms. The HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) of 1996 requires that the user follow all of the following three rules: Privacy rule, Security rule, and Breach Notification rule. Many professionals have not considered that they must, in fact, be using HIPPA compliant platforms for virtual work. Although some of the federal requirements have been loosened during this crisis, each state’s position may vary so be sure to check with your own state as to the status of their HIPPA expectations of you during the pandemic.
When looking for HIPAA compliant video platforms look for the following:
- Platforms must protect data privacy. All audio/video communication must be securely encrypted and transmitted from point-to-point. Platform should not have access to any identifiable health information that may be communicated.
- Platform must offer the HIPAA-required Business Associate Agreement (BAA) where company agrees to be responsible for keeping all patient information secure and to immediately report any breach of personal health information (PHI). The BAA is a legal contract that outlines ways business associates must follow HIPAA.
Once the right platform is found, collaborative professionals are encouraged to use the following additional security measures:
- For platform account log in, professionals are well served to utilize secure password-symbols, combo of letters (capital and lower case, only consonants), numbers, and symbols. 10 characters is equal to 3 quintillion combinations. The more letters and numbers, the better, safer and harder to hack.
- A signed informed consent for clients when using video conferencing ensures the highest standard of care, professional ethics and that reasonable steps for security are met. This is especially important in advising clients of the limitations involved in videoconferencing so they are making informed decisions.
- Password protect meetings. This will limit the risk of internet trolls gaining access to your meeting and posting inappropriate things.
- Create a personal meeting ID and personal link which creates a private meeting room that is permanently reserved for the host. As an alternative you can generate a separate meeting ID for each meeting with a unique password that you can embed in the link sent to clients and professionals.
- Create a waiting room for participants so that the meeting host controls when a participant joins the meeting. The host should not allow an unknown participant into the meeting. Some platforms also allow you to lock the meeting once everyone is present which affords greater control and protection.
Collaborative Meetings by Video Conferencing has some nifty options and benefits:
- Professionals can share documents on screen for all to see (agenda, goals, financial documents, or parenting plan, etc.).
- Consider all objects in view of the screen to be seen by the clients or utilize virtual backgrounds to provide a professional backdrop for meetings. Remember that clients can take screen shots of you and your “office”.
- Transcripts of the meeting and the meeting itself can be recorded. Just be sure that clients agree to this beforehand (On the other hand, it may also be necessary to confirm that no else is recording the meeting “off screen”).
- Use the “touch up my appearance” and HD option to improve your looks and maximize the lighting.
- Let the neutral be the host as a way to mitigate any perception of “bias” if one of the attorneys is “in charge” of the meeting.
- Looking ahead to post-pandemic, video conferencing can offer significant flexibility around scheduling and geography, especially when getting everyone together is a challenge and creates what would be unnecessary delays.
The drawbacks are real:
- For the best experience, all participants must be at a location with consistent internet service. Nothing is more frustrating that frozen screens, voice lag times, and disruptions due to dropped signals. People need guidance as to how to connect their audio and video and patience is a virtue when working virtually.
- Zoom or other video meetings are not appropriate for clients who have difficulty with technology. An attorney might want to practice with their client before doing a group meeting.
- Parties with a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness might find the concentrated stimuli of multiple participants overwhelming and may not be able to manage their experience.
- It is important that you know where you are looking during the meeting and how the “screen is arranged” to create comfort for all the participants. Make sure you are engaged in the screen in front of you—not other distracting screens.
- Ensure that not only is your area secure, but that the clients’ areas are also shielded from children and unseen/unknown shadow figures.
- Eye contact is important to humans, but studies are showing that individuals may experience “Zoom fatigue.” Humans communicate verbally and nonverbally; these cues help them understand what is being conveyed and what’s expected in response. A typical video call impairs these ingrained abilities because they require sustained and intense attention to words instead. Multi-person screens exhaust the mind and challenge the brain’s central vision and undermine its decoding system. Shortening and streamlining meetings could mitigate some of the stressors associated with video conferencing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a need to support efficient remote alternatives to in-person collaborative meetings. Fortunately, collaborative professionals are trained to be adaptable as well as problem solvers, while holding high professional standards. It is doubtful that anyone would have thought a year ago that there would be shelter in place orders nationwide that would change the landscape of how collaborative professionals assist divorcing clients. Video conferencing is an opportunity to repurpose a business tool to continue our work and solve pressing issues. As we plan for the future with its unforeseen realities and unknowns, collaborative professionals will continue to balance scrupulous attention to governing law and collaborative standards of service as they assist divorcing couples.