During the pandemic, many state occupational licensing bodies encountered barriers to their regular licensing processes. Issues with mailing delays, in-person training, exams, and fee collection prompted many executive orders and regulatory and legislative actions to waive some requirements for licensure. This has been especially important for meeting workforce shortages in healthcare and providing new ways to deliver and receive services, such as the expansion of telehealth practice. Outside of healthcare, the increasing number of jobs that require a professional license and the dramatic shift to a remote workforce has presented similar challenges and made clear the need for a more streamlined licensing process.
Coming out of the pandemic, analysts at The Council of State Governments (CSG) have identified several strategies to help states increase resilience against workforce shortages and better prepare for a national emergency. These best practices include increasing access to telehealth, increasing license portability, and implementing interstate compacts. These strategies can be used to increase the efficiency of medical systems as well as respond to the economic effects left in the wake of emergencies. Additionally, states have begun to modernize their licensing processes by implementing a digital licensing system. The pandemic has especially heightened awareness of the need to provide licensing services online as offices switched to remote work. Some features of online licensing systems include online initial applications and renewal, digital licenses, online continuing education credits, and the ability to pay fees online, and the ability to pay fees online.
Vermont, for example, has had a 100% online licensure process since 2017 for all professions. In a conversation with Director Lauren Hibbert from the Vermont Office of Professional Regulation, CSG learned that this has dramatically reduced the time it takes to become licensed, with a process that used to take two-to-three weeks now taking around two days. The Vermont Office of Professional Regulation (OPR) licensing system is even more efficient for nurses, who can be issued a license in as little as 45 minutes if they have an active license in another state. The system allows OPR to collect extensive data (i.e., schools attended, exam scores, contact information, etc.) from every licensee in Vermont. While startup costs were expensive, implementing this digitized system has become a major cost saving mechanism for Vermont, and printing costs have disappeared. On the other hand, the issue of access to the internet in rural areas has become more apparent since their licensure system went online.
Virginia is another state with digitized licensure systems, in place for well over a decade. But there still are some licensing boards without online application processes. According to many Virginia leaders of licensing boards, the pandemic brought to light some of the aspects of the licensure process that could still not be done remotely. Any issues with switching to remote work, however, were substantially mitigated by the work already done to make the licensure process more digitized. Virginia’s licensing department also partnered with Merit in 2019 to digitize their licensure process even more and provide all licensed professionals with a digital copy of their licenses accessible via Merit’s website or mobile app.
Other states with online licensing systems available for several professions include Colorado and New Hampshire. In Colorado, practitioners can apply or renew their license online in all professions regulated by the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (except bankers). Practitioners in New Hampshire can apply for a new license in most professions online and receive one notification 60 days prior and another 15 days prior to expiration to facilitate digital renewal. However, approximately 28 out of 50 licensed professions represented by the New Hampshire Office of Professional Licensure and certification still require an initial paper application.
Thus, even states with online licensing systems have the potential to improve and fill gaps in the licensing process. By digitizing their licensing processes, states can lower costs and processing times, lessen a need for physical office locations, and utilize the ability to use state databases to increase accountability. Below is a list of states with centralized online systems for multiple licensing boards to apply for and/or renew a license:
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