Primer for Computer Phobic

Article excerpt

ARE YOU SPENDING MORE TIME with your clients" paperwork than you are with your clients? Have you considered a computer program to manage your practice, but avoided doing anything about it yet because you are computer-phobic and afraid to make the time and/or financial commitment the software requires?

For years, practitioners have chosen one of three ways to manage their practices: sending their billing to a third-party firm, using in-house clerical staff to maintain written records or using general medical software. The trend in the late 1980s toward software programs designed specifically for therapists, and the increasing use of computers for correspondence and record-keeping in practices, has transformed the options. Therapists who may never have considered doing their own billing are becoming proficient at not only billing, but insurance form generation, automated managed care tracking and accounts receivable management. With a few simple steps, a therapist who before might have had little idea what his or her "per client session average" was, can generate reports that detail not only session averages, but male-to-female client ratios, age demographics, aging reports of outstanding receivables due and even client lists such as phone numbers or upcoming birthdays.

No longer is practice information difficult to track or expensive to maintain. With computers selling for less than $1500, and some practice management software programs selling for less than $200. even solo practitioners are finding the savings in time and effort worthwhile, not to mention the advantages reaped by analyzing practice trends.

In my five years of working with practice management software. I've seen the advantages these programs bring to private practices. For example, a common question on many managed care applications is, "What are the percentages of your clientele that fit in each age group listed below?" followed by a list of categories. In a non-computerized practice, the therapist may have to guess at the percentages. In contrast, with most practice management software, one or more reports can provide you with exact figures in just minutes. An insurance company provider relations department looking for a practice with sufficient experience in treating geriatric or adolescent issues may be persuaded by your actual practice figures, which can be both double-checked and updated frequently.

Other managed care or insurance company application information that may be completed using your practice management software reports include average number of sessions per client, average fee per client and percentage of cases of a certain type (for example, depression or anxiety). Before practice management software, you may never even have considered compiling this information, or you may have dismissed the idea as too complicated and time-consuming. The information necessary to calculate these figures is often in your client files: if you were using practice management software, a client intake form that only took a minute or two to enter may save you hours down the road.

Practice management programs can also encourage and support your marketing efforts, using information contained in the intake forms. Think of how much information you collect about your clients that is never analyzed or used: Do you know where you get most of your referrals? In which month of last year did you have the most new clients? Which is your most frequently used DSM code? If you know how to generate the reports, the basic information you enter in the computer as part of a client's intake form often can answer these questions. Analyzing your current practice trends often gives you important information that can lead you to increased business.

For example, most practice management programs allow you to quickly and easily generate a "referral source report." which indicates where your new clients came from. If you spent $1,500 last year on Yellow Page advertising and 48 clients indicated that they found you through the Yellow Pages, each prospect cost you $31. …