9 Ways to Enhance the Client Experience, Improve Revenue and Grow Your Mental Health Practice
Dramatic changes are revolutionizing the nature of mental health care. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the urgency for modern solutions to meet client needs. With this call to action, clients and practices alike have started realizing the benefits of telehealth, e-communications, greater access to care, billing conveniences and more. Liz Fobare, MSW, Senior Director of Product Management at Kareo, gives nine important tips for modernizing your practice to deliver exceptional care and mitigate provider burnout.
What has changed in the mental health field recently?
A lot! When I was studying for my social work degree, much of our focus was aimed at reducing stigma and increasing awareness of the importance of mental health (MH). In recent years, many factors – including generational attitudes, social media, and the rise of the opioid epidemic – have broadened our country’s social perspective on mental health. However, it was not until COVID-19, and the rapid acceleration of individuals seeking mental health care, that we began to appreciate how vastly under-resourced the mental health community is in its ability to treat clients in need. There simply aren’t enough providers to meet the demand, and waitlists are at an all-time high.
With the number of people seeking mental health support spiking, so too are we seeing an increase in the number of MH providers experiencing burnout. Often leaving “work” at the office is difficult for MH providers to do. And with waitlists exceeding provider capacity, the inability to keep up with client needs can lead MH providers to have feelings of guilt and insufficiency.
Add to that the increased demands of clients. They want to communicate with providers more easily, both inside and outside of the clinic. They want more information about their provider, and greater transparency overall. They expect all of the technological advances that have become commonplace with medical providers. And if they don’t get what they want, they’ll change clinics. It’s a very different landscape than it was just two years ago.
Creating even more stress is the obstacle that most providers were not trained to manage businesses. As workload with clients increases, so do the complexities of running a business and getting paid. It can be overwhelming on all fronts. And although mental health providers are trained to help others, often they fail to take proper care of themselves.
What can providers do to modernize their practice and achieve work-life balance?
There are numerous ways to give clients what they want and need without calling in an IT expert or breaking the bank. Here are actions you can take before, during, and after the client visit.
1. Set up a website.
Every practice must have a website these days. More and more clients are turning to the web to find MH services. For many individuals, a web search could be their first time researching mental health. It’s important that your website be informative, clear and helpful. This is where you explain your specialties, education, and certification, and post testimonials (which don’t have to include full names, for privacy). The website is your opportunity to add personality and individualize your practice. It also provides an easy way for clients to find and contact you – by phone, through email, and with a map for driving and parking instructions. Not to mention that content on your website helps you get found more easily!
Setting up a website doesn’t have to be that hard. Many software programs, including some connected with robust EHRs for online scheduling, will either walk you through the process or create the site for you. It’s often worth investing in a product or service that will do search engine optimization (SEO), so that your practice will populate during online searches – and appear high on the list. After all, if people can’t find you or contact you, how will your client base grow?
2. Manage your online reputation.
Once you have a good website, the next step is to take advantage of the power of social media to market, educate and serve your clients. We know that word of mouth continues to be the most trusted source for provider referrals. And now, people are turning to the web to look at reviews. Clients want to know what the experience has been like for others. Your reputation is constantly being impacted by comments on review sites, whether you know it or not. It’s important that you have a line of sight into what people are saying, and can actively engage or respond to feedback.
Claim and build out your online practice profiles on different platforms, and check in on them frequently for mentions, ratings and reviews. Platforms include Google, Yelp, Nextdoor, HealthGrades, RateMDs and Vitals. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), 60% of patients say that online reviews influence their selection of a provider.
Make sure that all of the data on your review listing is correct and up to date, especially the contact information and links to your website and social media feeds.
Respond to all reviews. Thank clients for their positive comments. A staff member can respond to a review on your behalf, if desired. Even more importantly, follow up on negative comments. Do this offline, because HIPAA laws prevent sharing personal mental health information in a public forum. Send a quick private email inviting them to discuss the issue. Then make sure to ask them to update the negative comment when the problem is resolved.
Why is this important? Because ratings form a big part of your reputation. A study by Zocdoc showed that providers who boosted their overall rating by even half a star increased monthly appointments by a whopping 37%.
3. Leverage social media.
Many mental health professionals are hesitant to use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn as a marketing platform. Historically, there has been a fear being seen as overly commercialized. However, social media has become a primary channel for connection for generations old and young. It’s a crucial opportunity to educate the public about current advances in the field, mental health concerns in general, and changes in your practice, which will help to increase your brand presence and make you a thought leader.
If using social media seems daunting, limit your efforts to just one of two platforms. Facebook, with a 72% market share in the US, is the clear winner among older people. Instagram is most popular with Millennials and Gen X. TikTok became a major force during the pandemic, primarily among young people. Twitter, Pinterest and Twitch are seeing rising user bases too.
You might want to consider hiring a student or service to manage social media for you. For a small monthly retainer, a skilled user can post on your behalf and alert you to incoming texts that need a response. Of course, you need to oversee content. For ideas, check out what your competitors or well-known national mental health figures are doing, and take note of the format and content type, as this differs by platform.
4. Ride the telehealth wave.
It’s no news that telehealth is transforming the MH field. A study by KFF and Epic Research reported that before the pandemic, telehealth visits for outpatient mental health and substance abuse were almost unheard of. But by mid-2021, they accounted for 36% of all visits. The figure is even higher for psychiatry, where 50% of all visits are now conducted remotely, according to McKinsey.
Why? “Telemental Health reduces or eliminates the need for travel for both patients and clinicians and delivers remote services cost-effectively while maintaining the quality of care,” says a report in Helio.com. It also offers unique insight into a client’s personal environment to help develop a more meaningful care plan.
For clients, telehealth is very convenient, particularly for those where in-office visits may be challenging. People appreciate counseling in the comfort of their own home, which has been proven to reduce anxiety.
When implementing telemental health, bear in mind a few rules of thumb:
Use a secure platform. HIPAA has strict mandates to protect clients’ privacy.
Choose a solution that integrates with your EHR. This ensures that your notes are stored safely, and you can access them any time, anywhere, along with the rest of the client’s records. Since you may be “seeing” people while out of the office yourself, this is essential for maintaining quality client relationships.
Check that a solution integrates with your billing software. One of the biggest problems for providers at the onset of the pandemic, when ad hoc telehealth systems were common, was that office staff often failed to invoice for televisits, since the client didn’t come into the office. A good system will automatically record visits and perform prompt invoicing.
5. Adopt digital communications.
Snail mail is a thing of the past. Phone calls are often perceived as intrusive. E-communications, especially texts, are the fastest and easiest way to stay in touch with your clients – and may be available through your EHR.
Offer online scheduling. Clients like viewing open slots and making selections themselves. This saves time for your front office staff, too.
Send out appointment reminders and receive confirmations via text and/or email. Many practices who start doing this see their no-shows drop to almost zero, improving revenue and reducing frustration for clinicians.
Provide client intake forms and assessments electronically to minimize time in the waiting room. Clients fill them out before their visit, and can submit them online.
Invite clients to send messages to their provider, giving them an easy way to ask questions and get quick replies.
Follow up each and every new client visit with a short online survey form. Ask for permission to publish testimonials on social media. This is a great way to generate and promote positive reviews (see the section above on managing your online reputation). You can also provide a link to your business profiles on sites like Google, Yelp or Nextdoor, making it easy for them to post a review.
6. Streamline your workflow with technology.
An integrated Electronic Health Records (EHR) system automates your entire practice, and gives you access to the e-communications features mentioned above. For optimal efficiencies, shop carefully, looking for a provider that gives you:
Cloud-based service, which can be accessed anywhere 24/7
Easy user interface, with great onboarding and customer support
Electronic notes, with secure storage
Electronic prescriptions, saving phone time for you and your staff
Client portal, where people can view appointments, prescriptions and educational materials, pay their bill, as well as communicate with their provider
Seamless, secure telehealth platform
Provider scheduling capabilities
E-communication, including automated appointment reminders and intake forms
Integration with billing functions, whether you invoice in-house or through a billing company
7. Get paid faster.
Running the business aspect of a practice is often the most challenging part of owning a mental health practice. When you’re seeing patients back-to-back all day, there’s little time left for bookkeeping, billing, insurance submissions and revenue management. Once set up properly, however, your EHR can handle many of these tasks for you, making sure that you and your staff are paid on time.
If you handle billing in-house, integrated software can manage the entire accounts receivable process. Charges are captured immediately after the visit concludes, with data automatically transferred from clinical to financial parts of the system, avoiding missed invoices. All billing information is stored securely in the cloud.
It's equally important for practices that use an external billing company to have a modern, robust system in-house. The billing company requires accurate, timely data in order to submit claims and invoices. The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” applies. An industry-standard EHR helps ensure that you deliver clean information to your biller, and speeds the workflow at their end.
Automating your patient payment system can be a big time saver, too. Once insurance pays on a claim, you can set up your EHR to notify patients of their balance with an automated message. They can then click on a link to pay with a credit card or mobile wallet like ApplePay or GooglePay. If they fail to pay, the system sends follow-up messages on a preset schedule, either electronically or by regular mail. Practices adopting automated payments report that the vast majority of patients pay immediately, eliminating the need for stressful and time-consuming collection calls or costly outside collection agency services.
Do you bill insurance companies? If yes, you may need help with insurance company credentialing. Many mental health providers who operated on a cash-only basis before the pandemic are now being forced to bill insurance companies because of patient demands. They are therefore learning about credentialing requirements for the first time – and often finding out the hard way that the process is more complicated than they expected.
It typically takes between three and four months to get approved by payers. Practices spend a minimum of 20 hours per payer gathering and submitting all of the required documentation. And once approved, you need to recredential again after one to five years, depending on the payer. You cannot bill (or rebill) for services performed when you are uncredentialed, making this an essential first step for any new practice long before opening its doors.
8. Access analytics.
A good EHR will give you easy-to-understand reporting tools, with actionable insights to achieve your goals. A few clicks provide the business information you need to track practice growth and revenue trends. Monitor the number of patients seen, cash flow, and trend analyses to keep your finger on the pulse of your practice. By customizing reports, you decide how you want to view your data. Then you can look for new opportunities and address inefficiencies before they become major problems.
9. Avoid burnout.
Even before the pandemic, more than half of all mental health professionals reported moderate to high levels of burnout, with symptoms including emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, compassion fatigue, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. Things only got worse after 2019. Many therapists say that Covid created the most stressful conditions they had experienced in their entire careers – which explains why so many professionals are quitting.
While modernizing your practice cannot solve systemic issues in the industry, it can give you a handle on improving things closer to home. Letting patients set their own appointments on line takes pressure off the scheduler. Having fewer no-shows reduces provider irritation, and enhances clinic efficiencies. Telehealth relieves you of the need to be in the office all day. Happier patients improve professional satisfaction. And knowing that you’re likely to get paid on time makes everyone feel better. Best of all, you will be able to devote more quality time to patients rather than busy-work, and create a better work-life balance.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t have to be an arduous task to modernize your mental health practice. An end-to-end EHR platform like Kareo provides tools to automate everything from intake and e-communications to billing and financial reporting – with your entire business stored securely in the cloud for anywhere anytime access.
“Modernized Client and Mental Health Practice: Accessibility and Mental Health Awareness For Your Patients” is a free Kareo webinar Wednesday, May 25, 2022 at 10:00 am PT (1:00 pm ET). Liz Fobare, MSW, provides in-depth insights that you can put to use right away – for a more streamlined, profitable and fulfilling practice. Register here