Starting a private practice in counseling requires not only clinical experience but essential tools that will help counselors or therapists to start a private practice and run it smoothly as well. Business plan, space, communication, record keeping, billing, forms, procedures and more are all necessary when starting a private practice in counseling.
So, you’re licensed. You’ve done your homework and asked the important questions. You’re feeling ready to take on the private practice world. Clinical knowledge is, of course, the foundation of private practice. After all, you’re a clinician and people will be coming to you seeking your clinical expertise. But, beyond clinical knowledge, a private practice requires some essential tools.
How’s your toolbox looking?
Your Business Plan
Every business such as private practice needs a plan. Your business plan is your roadmap. It will guide you as you establish and grow. Your plan will let you know what kind of tools and processes you are going to need. Every practice is different so it’s important to take time to make your plan based on your vision. A plan will keep you on track. It will also help keep you from spending precious resources on things you really don’t need.
The first thing you have to decide is where clients will see you. It might be in an office setting. You might be an in-home therapist. You may opt to provide telemental health services. Each of these services requires a different setting and setup.
A brick-and-mortar office, for example, requires a private room in which to meet, a waiting area, restrooms and such. In-home therapy requires a way to take your “office” with you. Telemental health services require a secure platform. Planning to offer different options? You may then need multiple spaces and processes.
Basic Supplies and Services
Yes, we are talking basics. One of the things clinicians often forget is the expense of outfitting an office for its day-to-day operation. – paper, pens, staples. It's all those little things we often overlook.
You’ll also need tools to conduct business – a computer, a printer, phone services and maybe even fax capabilities. And, they all have to be secure.
How will you communicate with your clients? Phone? Email? Text? Sounds easy enough, right? Well, not so fast. Client communications are required to be HIPAA-secure. Standard texting and email aren’t secure. You need to find apps or services that are compliant.
And, if you’re a telemental health provider, how will you connect with your clients? How will you get documents signed? Cell phone service is not secure. Facetime and Skype are not secure. You’ll need a way to share and sign documents as well as communicate with your clients that is HIPAA-secure. You may need a document signing service.
Keeping accurate records is a necessity. Have you thought about how you will keep your session notes, releases, consent forms and other relevant client data? Historically, we all used paper and had tons of files to store in file cabinets galore. And, with the retention requirements, you may be housing these records for a number of years. Some practitioners still do it this way and it works for them.
More and more, though, practices are moving to electronic records systems. These systems allow you to store all of your client information securely and electronically eliminating the need for paper. Some only manage records. Some though, do more than one thing. (Hint: this is a good thing) Some also have billing functions, document sharing, video capabilities for telehealth and more. A word of caution here: not all platforms are created equally and not all are designed for the unique needs of mental health practitioners. Shop wisely.
With all this preparation for practice, don’t forget – you also need a way to get paid. You will need a process for submitting claims or, if you’re not billing insurance, a way to provide clients with superbills.
Like with any other practice function that involves Protected Health Information (PHI), your billing procedures and tools must be HIPAA-secure and compliant. Your software, your bookkeeping, even your biller if you choose an external biller, has to maintain the privacy and security of your clients’ information.
Forms and Procedures
If all the “stuff” isn’t enough, you also have to think about how you will gather and manage information. Again, whatever you choose has to be in compliance with HIPAA and maintain your clients’ rights and confidentiality.
Developing forms and procedures can be time-consuming. You might be thinking, “Hey, I’ll just use some generic forms from the internet,” or “I’ll just pay someone to do it for me.” You could. But, are those generic forms HIPAA compliant? Do they adhere to your state’s or board’s requirements? Do they gather the information you need? Are they in the public domain or are you taking someone else’s work? And, custom forms? They may be made-for-you but at what cost? New practitioners don’t often have the resources for a lot of customized tools.
So what’s a new practitioner to do?
Savvy practitioners look for integration. What does that mean? In the practice world, it means finding systems that can serve more than one purpose. For example, why have a separate electronic medical records system, a separate billing/claims system, a separate client communication/telehealth platform and a ton of paper consent forms. Are they integrated? Probably not. This means you (or your staff) can spend literally hours going from one system to the next just to keep a client’s file current. So, even though some of these tools may be “free” or “low cost”, are they really? As they say, time is money especially in a fee-for-service business.
Integrated systems help you work smarter and not harder. Integrated systems can combine electronic records, billing capabilities, secure messaging, video-conferencing and more. Some, like TheraPlatform, even have a library of customizable forms templates to help you find just the right form for your practice needs.
TheraPlatform is a fully secure and HIPAA-compliant, integrated platform designed with therapists in mind. TheraPlatform offers a full array of services and resources for every type of practice.
• Paperless intake and consent forms
• Billing with invoicing, credit card processing and superbills
• HIPAA compliant video conferencing
• Teaching tools
• Client Portal
Rates are affordable and you can add services as you grow. TheraPlatform even offers a FREE TRIAL so that you can experience the difference full integration can make!
And the best news? No credit card is required to get started.
Ready to see what TheraPlatform can do for you? Click here to get started with your free trial.