So maybe you’ve started a private practice, and you’re doing it for a few hours a week, in addition to your agency job. Or maybe you’ve jumped right in to private practice, full-steam, and you need to figure out the best way to get organized. Do you really need to spend money on a practice management system? In today’s post, we’re going to talk about what a practice management system does, and when you should start using one.
What is a practice management system?
A practice management system is quite simply an online platform that therapists use to organize their private practice. Sometimes people also refer to a practice management system as an Electronic Health Record (or EHR). I personally don’t prefer to use the term EHR, because a practice management system does SO much more than just keep records for you.
Here are some of the common features across most of the popular platforms:
Automated client appointment reminders (by text or email, based on your client’s preference)
Large variety of templates for session and other chart notes
Paperless intake forms (the types of forms offered vary, but most offer ready made forms that your clients can read and sign online)
Compliance tracking and reminders(so you know if you are missing notes in a chart)
Treatment plan templates
Billing (you can bill clients directly, including for co-pays, and keep track of all payments)
Integration with a credit card processor (you can store credit card numbers and automatically bill for services, no need to wait for clients to pay you)
Insurance claims management (you can set it up to send claims, and keep track of insurance payments)
Most platforms also offer a host of other services, including things like: secure client messaging, client self-scheduling, the option to upload paper documents, integrated teletherapy tools, and even trainings for CEU’s. It all just depends on which platform you use.
The typical cost is anywhere from $38-$49 per month, for the most popular ones. And then tack on an additional cost if you are planning to use it to submit claims directly to insurance companies. This will cost anywhere from $7-$20 per month, depending on how many claims you plan to send.
Pro Tip: most of these platforms will give you a free-trial of anywhere from 21-30 days, AND also will give you a discount of 10%-15% if you pay upfront for the whole year.
If you want to compare and contrast the 4 big ones, here’s a link to a comparison chart I made on Capterra (which is a great resource for finding and comparing business software, by the way, shout out to them).
Great, so how do I know when to start using one?
The short answer is: start using it from day one.
I know that if you are just starting out, you might be looking for ways to save money, and I can certainly respect that! But, here’s why I suggest starting right away:
It makes your practice look and feel more official. And if you are just starting out, this is good for your clients and good for you and for the raging Imposter Syndrome that we ALL deal with when starting out. I found that my practice management system was a really nice container for all my just-starting-out-anxiety!
It makes things more streamlined for your clients. From the paperless system, to scheduling, to the appointment reminders, to the ease of making payments, and more. I have found it leaves my clients with a positive impression of the professionalism of my practice.
It’s good to begin things the way you want to continue them. It gets you in the habit of keeping yourself organized right from the start. If you plan on having a private practice, even if right now it’s just your side hustle, then go ahead and just get started. You can write off the cost as a business expense! Woot!
On the subject of cost, in general, the price of an EHR per month is way less than how much you will make seeing just one client per week. The amount of time you get back (and remember, your time is money) and the way it leaves a positive impression on your clients will end up making you money in the long run.
Be real with yourself. Are you going to want to transfer all your documents to an EHR at some point in the future? If you are the super conscientious-type, than you might do it. I consider myself an 8 out of 10 conscientious, and I never did it. Things just got too busy and it eventually fell off the to-do list.
OK, but I already started my practice without one. Am I in trouble now?
Nope, not even a little bit. Based on my experience, I would say the majority of people don’t start using a practice management system from day one. I certainly didn’t. The above is a “best-case-scenario”, but it’s by no means the end of the world if you’ve already gotten started without one.
Most of these platforms try to make it as easy as they possibly can for you to import your current practice information, so fear not. It might be time-consuming up front, but if you can dedicate a chunk of time to it, it’ll get done.
What I tell most of my clients about when they should shift over is this: if your current system of taking care of the administrative side of your is pulling time away from your business-aka, time you could be spending either marketing your business or actually seeing clients-then it’s time to make the switch.
If you aren’t sure, then do an informal time audit over the next week or two. Here’s how:
Get a piece of paper
At the end of the day, put a hatch mark for each 15-minute increment of time you spent each day doing administrative stuff (that includes phone calls and emails about scheduling and rescheduling, billing, filing papers, calling insurance companies to follow-up on the status of a claim, depositing checks to the bank, etc. etc)
At the end of a week or two, count them up and see how many hours it is, and then decide how you feel about that. Could that time have been spent in a way that would have furthered your business or other things in your life (you know, the fun stuff, family, kids, dog, exercise, self-care, etc)?
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it works for you. This goes for how you handle the administrative parts of your business, but it goes for all the other parts of your business too. Remember: this is your business, and you get to decide how it is set-up and run, and if you want to change something because it’s not working, you have the power to change it. Don’t let your business run you!