Therapists went into this area of practice to deal with the complicated mental health issues that their patients experience. Most would probably want to focus on what they do best, namely provide this therapy. The reality is that, like anything else, running a mental health practice is a business, and unless it can be profitable, then there will quickly be no practice. Adding to this challenge is that many of these practices are solo practices, with minimal to no support personnel, which places this burden entirely on the mental health professional.
However, with the right practice management software, it can offload many of these burdensome tasks off the back of the practitioner, and allow them to focus on their expertise, namely the therapy. Here are some tasks that practice management software can not only handle, but even excel at.
Staying in touch with clients is an important part of any mental health practice. However, calls coming in have the potential to interrupt a therapy session, so they need to be managed appropriately. Also, add in the further barrier that the communication needs to be encrypted, which makes the not time based communication methods commonly used by the public, such as texting, IM’s, and email not appropriate for private communication. A final barrier is that the communication would be documented, such as when advice is given to go to a hospital or call 9-1-1, this should be part of the patient’s medical record should an issue arise.
With good practice management software, a communications portal is provided, which allows the patient to contact the therapist. This also takes care of the privacy issue as the communications are then encrypted. As the communication gets initiated via the portal, when the therapist is with a client the message can be returned, at the therapist’s convenience. If this is all done via a chat, this can be saved, and documented directly in the patient’s record, or notes can be written if a phone conversation took place.
Years ago, we were all promised the paperless office, but somehow laser and inkjet printers along with their cousin the fax machine got in the way of this. However, decades later, this dream of a paperless office can be a reality.
No more is there a requirement to store separate papers in filing cabinets. With a scanner, any paper documents, such as consents, or notes from other providers can all be scanned and saved in electronic format. Worried about your hard drive crashing? The data is backed up to the cloud with redundancy to avoid data loss.
Even better than signed paper forms, the more robust platforms support electronic forms that patients can review, and sign either on a kiosk, or on their smartphone. With document management gone entirely digital, it saves the work of printing it out, and also scanning it on the other end once it is signed.
Ask any therapist or healthcare about challenges, and compliance with privacy requirements is sure to come up. In broad terms, HIPAA is the important legislation that ensures that patient information stays private. There are specific standards to do this, including the encryption of data, more specifically Protected Health Information (PHI), such as the patient’s name, date of birth and diagnosis. With this PHI on a cloud architecture, it is critical that this data gets encrypted to high standards.
More than just encryption, good practice software can also provide role based access control so that a covering therapist can have access to the progress notes, but a back office staff member only gains access to what is needed for their job, and not more than that. Robust solutions will also include reports generated in real time for a data breach, and audit trails to track who viewed what information and when.
A therapist and the staff can spend considerable time both making appointments, and also changing them as schedules evolve and change. This can be onerous to the staff.
Rather, it is really more efficient to have practice management software with an appointment module. Patients get the luxury of being able to view open appointment slots over a time period, and can then self schedule when they want the next therapy session to be. When they inevitably need to reschedule or cancel, they go through the appointment portal, and do not need to directly involve office staff. In fact, this whole process can run quite automated, and the therapist may need minimal office staff with appointment scheduling and then rescheduling no longer tying up multiple front office staff.
With all of the information digitized, when it comes to data analytics is where practice management software excels. Rather than having the data locked away on paper files, this allows the database to be queried, with actionable intelligence generated.
For example, need to know how many therapy sessions were done in a week, a month or a year? This is now a simple task without any manual counting required, and taking it a step further we can now look at how many are new patients, or follow up sessions. We can also determine by the referring physician to track where the patients are coming from. Having the patients grouped by the diagnosis would also provide insight into what the areas the practice is growing in, and where it is stagnant. The possibilities are endless, with options to look at patients by zip code, insurer, and any other demographic that would be useful.
With labor costs high, and good staff hard to find and keep, it has become increasingly necessary to have powerful, practice management software that can take on the burden of many operations at a mental health practice. In some cases, it is out of necessity such as compliance with HIPAA regulations. For some other scenarios, like with appointment scheduling, there are benefits with cost savings and operational efficiency. With such obvious benefits, it becomes clear that any therapist’s practice will benefit from modernization of digital records, and workflow that gets supported by practice management software.