Electronic social work practice: A pandemic solution that’s here to stay

Date: September 22, 2020

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Most U.S. jurisdictions enacted temporary legal solutions for problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic. And some of those solutions have affected social work practice mobility by making it easier for social workers to practice electronically across borders.

The District of Columbia, for example, temporarily waived licensure requirements for providers licensed in good standing outside of the District who provide electronic services to existing clients or work in a D.C. licensed facility. Washington, D.C., had not previously addressed electronic practice in its rules and regulations, but it issued a statement as part of its pandemic response: “Telehealth services are viewed as another tool to be used by healthcare providers, similar to an x‐ray machine or MRI, and not as a new type of healthcare practice.”

The bordering state of Maryland took a different approach. As pandemic restrictions began, Maryland’s social work board received many requests from social workers asking permission to practice electronically in the state. “Social workers from Virginia, D.C., Delaware, and Pennsylvania contacted our board staff,” says Stan Weinstein, executive director of the Maryland Board of Social Work Examiners. “We wanted to facilitate this to enable continuity of care.” Maryland statute allows a social worker licensed outside the state to apply for endorsement and practice in the state for six months while completing the application process. The board waived the fees usually required in this circumstance and assigned one staff member to handle these applications so they could be quickly approved.

Changes required to meet the needs of social workers in response to the public health emergency may persist even after the pandemic has passed. Mavis Azariah Armattoe, who serves as health licensing specialist for the District of Columbia Board of Social Work, says, “The board will continue to address the telehealth requirements and whether or not this will be implemented in social work regulation.”

Weinstein agrees that the use of technology in practice is “here to stay.”

Read more about how social work regulators in these two jurisdictions have responded to the pandemic in Meeting the pandemic’s challenges in two U.S. jurisdictions.

Visit the Regulatory Provisions tab on the ASWB and COVID-19 page to learn more about the emergency provisions in place in all jurisdictions.