Do you remember that opening scene in Mary Poppins where Dick van Dyke is the one man band? That’s how I feel many days running a private practice.
Between marketing for new clients, enrolling new clients, serving existing clients, dealing with crises, completing continuing education and learning the best models, dealing with another crisis, encountering all of the sales reps who just have to talk to you about their product, completing notes, handling schedule changes, and even just paying the office bills, it’s a lot for any one person to do.
After five years of manually enrolling new clients by:
- Scheduling an initial phone calls to share my policies and establish a connection
- Emailing each one the therapy contract, fee and payment form, policies and procedures, and directions to the office
- Hoping they remembered when their appointment was (because there was absolutely no time to give them a call or manually send them an individual reminder email)
- Juggling the calls for appointment changes, questions, and the rest in the midst of all that
I knew something had to change. Fast.
That’s when I spent two solid weeks researching practice management software. I went to mental health blogs that I trusted. I searched their archives. I did random Google searches. And before I knew it, I was just as overwhelmed trying to find a solution as I was trying to manage everything.
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I went old school while trying to update my technology. I grabbed a pad of graph paper and divided up the software systems and a list of the various features and started comparing. It took me eight hours to organize all of the notes I had scribbled into one easy to read graph. Then I signed up for trial programs for those that made the cut and made my final selection: Counsol.com.
That was almost two years ago. I can say without a doubt, making the decision to use a practice management system in my practice has made a HUGE difference in my time, my sanity, and the access for my clients.
In order to give you a sneak peek into Counsol.com, I created a client profile for Pebbles Flintstone so you could view things from the client points of view while I point out the features that made me decide to use this practice management system.
I could embed the client portal on my existing website. Since I’ve worked hard to develop a website to give my potential clients a real taste for who I am and what they can expect, this was important to me. Just copy and paste a link where I wanted it on my site, and Voila! A HIPAA compliant, secure, encrypted site for my clients was a part of my website and services. Any emails sent through this system are encrypted and meet the strict privacy requirements for technology.
You can customize the appearance (colors, your photo, logo, etc.) of the client portal to match your existing website and practice branding- even if you aren’t that technology savy.
Clients can directly request sessions at the date and time they prefer. No more phone tag. No more string of emails that make it easy for one of us to click on the wrong one. And no more being the scheduling department. Available session times are shown, and you can choose to have session requests automatically approved or to manually approve them so you can double-check your appointment book.
Clients can complete my own forms when they sign up. I don’t have to email them to them. They don’t forget and leave the forms they’ve completed at home. They don’t have to come in early and complete paperwork. Oh, and I got to dictate what my forms said and what I wanted on them. No generic forms that I couldn’t modify.
Records and notes are encrypted and kept in the client portal, too. Instead of having one software system for scheduling and a different one for client notes, everything is in one place, making it easier for me to just log in to one place instead of this voice mail, that email, and ringing phones. There is a place for a treatment plan. There is a separate section for session notes, with lots of drop-down options to make it easy to select on a tablet and go. You can even omit certain portions if they don’t fit your practice or treatment style. And, there is a section for your own personal notes for each client.
Appointment reminders are automatically sent– for free (some programs charge for this service). I can set how many hours in advance reminders are given. I can also dictate the wording for the text reminders and even record my own voice for the phone reminders. When clients complete their profile and initial paperwork in the system, they get to select how they would like to receive appointment reminders: via text, phone call, or email.
Clients can’t cancel less than 24 hours in advance (or whatever number of hours it states in your policy). In your appointment reminders, you can share the cancellation policy if you want. You can also set the system so that they can’t go in less than 72/48/24 or however many hours it states in your policy, and cancel or change their appointment times. You can also set how far out clients can schedule. I have my system set so that clients have to book at least 24 hours in advance, and they can’t request a session no more than four weeks away.
It integrates with several credit card processors, so if you want to require them to keep a card on file just in case, you can easily incorporate this in to your practice management software. It also works with PayPal. All you have to do is to add in your account and when clients click to pay their invoices, it goes into your account. (The same is true for whatever payment system you choose to use.)
Counsol has no set-up fees, and you can get started testing out and setting up your practice immediately. You’re also assigned to a support person who’s familiar with your account. If you have a question, you can email or call and get an answer right away.
You can group your clients three ways.
- Clients can be grouped by relationship, either as a couple or as a family. For example, both the husband and the wife can complete the online forms, and you can connect their file so that they both get appointment reminders and only one invoice shows up (instead of billing both of them).
- Clients can also be tagged with a “label.” For example, if I have a client who is working on anxiety, I add that label to their file and suddenly they can see my go-to handouts on anxiety that I like to share with clients. Or for those who are working on parenting issues, I can add the “parenting” label to their chart and they will see the information that I share with those clients. So I upload it once and then add the client to that label when I’m working on their treatment plan or their notes. No more making lots of copies. No more sharing copies after clients lose them. No more running out of copies when I need them most. I can keep one laminated copy in my office to use as an example and they can go home and make as many copies as they need.
- Clients can be grouped by status: active, inactive, closed, and removed. If I’m out of the office for vacation, I can send a message to all of my active clients, letting them know why they won’t hear from me for a few days.
There is a journal section in the client portal. No other software system had this feature. Clients can choose whether or not to share their journal entries with you, or whether to keep them completely private (and they can do that for each individual entry). This is a great place for them to complete any at-home assignments or to share thoughts and questions that come to them between sessions. It also cuts down on random emails and phone calls.
Invoices and superbills are automatically created for each session. I can add my signature to the invoice, and once I give a diagnosis in the treatment plan, the system will generate the appropriate CPT code for the session length and the corresponding ICD/DSM code for the diagnosis. If you add your tax number, all clients have to do is print the invoice from the system and the superbill is ready for them to use.
Video and online chat options are available. Though most therapy clients still prefer face-to-face sessions, Counsol has the option to add video and chat sessions. Instead of having to use another interface, and then worrying whether or not it is HIPAA compliant and secure, all of that is taken care of and integrated into the software. Note: you do have to add this feature to your account. My clients who have used it with me have found it to be easy to use. Also, there is the ability to take notes during the session using this feature.
If you need a change to the amount of work you are doing in your practice, and you are looking for a one-stop practice management system, with a low monthly fee, then I urge you to try Counsol. It has lots of bells and whistles and it will save you lots of time.
To see other helpful resources that I recommend to clinicians who are setting up private practice, click here.
**Please note: this is a sample client profile. No real client profiles or records are shown here.