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There are many strategies to consider when looking to improve your mental health business. Where do you start? Most successful behavioral health practices have these three things in common:

  1. They provide high-quality clinical care.
  2. They are profitable.
  3. They proactively mitigate risk for their practice.

We’ve found that many behavioral health practices excel in one or two of these areas, but each practice tends to have an area that they wish they could improve. With a combination of thoughtful intention and the right technology, behavioral health practices can effortlessly achieve the full trifecta of high-quality care, profitability, and risk reduction.

Let’s take a look a closer look at the top strategies to improve your practice.

Increase the Quality of Clinical Care Provided by Your Mental Health Business

As a mental health care provider, you take the quality of your work seriously. Your goal is to provide effective treatment and ensure that your patient is benefiting from your care.

But how do you measure the effectiveness of your clinical care? Isn’t this subjective? No. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

Use measures to improve patient outcomes

Symptom rating scales are a proven way that providers can measure and track the effectiveness of their treatment over time. They allow you to focus on providing patient-centered care and improving outcomes.

Care provided with the assistance of outcome measurement is often referred to as Measurement-Based Care. Because of its association with better clinical outcomes, it has become a standard approach in behavioral health care. Outcome measures in behavioral health are analogous to quantifiable lab data such as HgB A1C for diabetes in physical healthcare. They are an objective means to track progress and make necessary adjustments in a treatment plan over time.

Examples include the PHQ-9 for depression, GAD-7 for anxiety, SPIN for social phobia, and AUDIT for alcohol use. It is not uncommon for patients to downplay their symptoms and avoid discussing them in an objective way (they want to please you). Giving your patient a measure to fill out minimizes your subtle interference as a provider and helps you measure, over time, how they are doing. It can also give you a glimpse into what is happening in the moment and trigger pertinent conversation.

Why don’t more practices use outcome measures as a standard method for tracking patient improvement?

When you don’t have the right EHR in place, facilitating the use of measures can be cumbersome and tracking results over time becomes nearly impossible. Most EHRs are developed for primary care or other specialties, so including assessments specific to mental health is not a priority for them.

Using an EHR platform that is specialized for behavioral health gives you access to the specific mental health assessments you need at your fingertips. It should allow you to easily send the measures to patients through a portal on a one-time or regular basis. And once the patient completes the measure, the clinical data should flow directly into your note, providing you with background and insight at the point of care.

Suddenly you have objective data that allows you to track your patient’s progress over time, without any hassle. This data helps you evaluate your treatment and make necessary changes. It also provides evidence to payers that you are providing quality care to your patients, resulting in higher negotiated reimbursement rates that can really add up over time.

Increase the engagement of your behavioral health clients

Another factor in providing high-quality clinical care is ensuring high levels of engagement. Individuals living with serious mental illnesses can be difficult to engage in ongoing treatment, contributing to higher drop-out rates. Poor engagement can lead to worse clinical outcomes and symptoms relapse.

When using a proper EHR platform, patient engagement increases. Some of the features that allow patients to stay engaged with their mental health provider more easily include the following:

  • Having a secure, convenient portal where patients can easily access pertinent demographic and billing information and can take an active role in completing assessments.
  • Ability to request appointments online and receive automated appointment reminders, which can dramatically increase your client show rates.
  • Ability to fill out intake paperwork and symptoms screeners from home, before even stepping foot in your office. This reduces the time they spend in the waiting room and increases the quality of time they spend in session with you.
  • Secure HIPAA-compliant messaging that allows you to communicate with your patients outside of a session. This is especially useful for simple administrative reminders or to quickly verify insurance information.
  • Ability to view their billing balances and look at their statements online.
  • Ability to have telehealth visits with you.

Increasing the quality of care you provide to your patients is the first step to improve your mental health business. Consistently using outcome measures and increasing the engagement with your patients can help you achieve the high level of care you are striving for.

Increase the Profitability of Your Mental Health Business

Providing excellent clinical care is your top priority, but you are also a business owner, and that means you should always be looking for ways to improve the profitability of your mental health practice.

There are four primary ways to increase your profitability: 1) Increase the number of patients you see. 2) Increase the productivity of your clinical staff. 3) Decrease your administrative costs. 4) Increase the effectiveness of your behavioral health practice’s billing.

Get more clients for your practice

One of the most effective ways to increase your volume of clients is to work your referral network. Identify new referral resources and establish a rapport with them. Reach out to your existing sources to nurture that relationship.

Digital marketing is also an effective, scalable way to be visible when patients are searching for care and therefore, increase patient flow. This includes search engine marketing, email outreach, and social media, among other things. If you’re not familiar with how to set up an effective digital marketing strategy, consider bringing in the help of an outside agency that can help you identify your target audience and get the right message in front of them. This can be a nominal investment that will typically pay dividends.

Increase the productivity of your clinical staff

How much of your providers’ time is spent scanning and uploading intake paperwork or health questionnaires? How long does it take them to generate their clinical notes? How often are billing errors made or billing diagnosis missed because providers have to re-enter information in multiple places?

These are all issues that behavioral health professionals struggle with. As a highly trained provider, your time should be spent practicing at the top of your license, not worrying about paperwork or software inefficiencies.

The right technology removes these issues altogether, minimizing the amount of non-value-add administrative work for providers and maximizing the time spent focusing on providing great care to the patient.

  • Find a scheduler that houses all the pertinent information for creating a charge, including the CPT code, Facility code, and Provider name – and then make sure this data automatically flows into your clinical note.
  • Give your patients the ability to fill out and sign important forms (disclosures, no-show policy, fee agreement and other office policy and procedures) prior to their first visit and automatically integrate the information into the clinical chart – before they even step foot in the door.
  • Find a platform that allows you to document thoroughly, but efficiently. Your session should be between you and your client – not your computer. However, too much automation can make your notes too generic and not helpful. What’s right for one provider might not be best for another, so having a wide range of options will put each clinician in the driver’s seat, giving them the ability to select from pre-populated mental-health-specific content and customizing when it makes sense. For ultimate productivity, look for an EHR that allows you to include commonly used text phrases or prompts in your note. These inputs can generate narrative, giving you a comprehensive finished product that you are proud of.
  • Make it easy to coordinate care. Whether you want other team members to start a note, take vitals, or queue up prescriptions for you to sign off on, the best EHRs are flexible and allow you controllable options for ways that your staff can be involved.
  • Increase your efficiency with e-prescribing. Prescribe, renew, and discontinue medications within your clinical note or through your patient chart directly, while eliminating the excess work of importing or requesting a patient’s medication history. If you equip your team with integrated prescribing capabilities, your providers can send scripts with less data entry and fewer prescribing errors.

Lower the administrative costs for your practice

From scheduling appointments and managing no-shows to stuffing envelopes every month, the administrative costs of running a practice add up.

At what point is it more efficient to invest in technology that can streamline your administrative duties and minimize those costs? Small or solo practices will often perform administrative tasks in order to mitigate costs, but self-managing the practice’s scheduling, intakes, and billing is a serious time commitment.

The first step is to take stock of your administrative costs and assess which of those tasks are cutting into your billable hours. From there, you can select which costs could be eliminated or significantly reduced with the right technology. Common costs to scrutinize include the following:

  • Managing patient information: Data shows that between 40-50% of calls that come into a practice are for one of the following reasons:
    • Confirm what time an appointment is scheduled for
    • Schedule a future appointment
    • Ask for a billing statement to be resent
    • Update demographic or insurance information due to moving or changing insurances
    • Ask for another copy of outcome measures that need to be completed
    • Ask for a copy of an internal form, such as a release of information

By utilizing a practice management system that addresses these items within a patient portal, practices see an average of 30-50% decrease in their call volumes as patients become more self-sufficient. Not only does this decrease the amount of time your staff spends on the phones, it has been shown to increase patient satisfaction, as well.

  • Signing forms and managing copies of signed documentation: Switch to a digital-only workflow that allows patients to sign documents electronically and send back to you through their portal.
  • Setting up recurring appointments and group scheduling: Integrated calendar options can alleviate the burden of coordinating schedules.
  • Mailing statements: Consider switching to an online statement system. One of the top reasons a client calls their practice is to find out their statement balance. If you have the ability to provide electronic statements in a patient portal, you can eliminate the time and cost mailing statements each month and answering these types of calls.
  • Appointment reminders: Calling customers to remind them of their appointment is undoubtably an effective way to decrease no-show appointments, however, doing this can also sink a tremendous amount of your staff’s time. The best scheduling systems allow you to eliminate this part of your team’s workflow altogether by setting up automated text, email, or phone call reminders at the cadence you choose.
  • Claims management: Insurance billing can provide many benefits for a private practice; however, claim denials, non-timely filing, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance create challenges and can dominate your staff’s time. Find an EHR with integrated workflows and insurance claims processing and you will save your practice a significant amount of time and effort, plus reduce the chance for billing errors.
  • Reporting: Tracking the productivity and financial health of your practice can be a significant undertaking without the right tools. With the right practice management software, you should have a dashboard-level view to give you the most important information that is required for you to effectively run your business, as well has have the ability to run reports showing your charges, payments, and adjustments for any date range and provider. This data allows you see if you are improving or regressing so that you can make an appropriate action plan to address the issue.

Increase your billing effectiveness

The right technology can help automate your billing cycle, payment collection, and authorization tracking. As noted above, having an appropriate level of automation can certainly save your staff time. But it can also increase the total amount your practice is able to collect. These factors can improve your billing effectiveness:

  • Outcomes data: Measuring what you do with patients can certainly pay off. Not only are you improving clinical quality, but you can also increase your profits. Clinicians that do value-based care can negotiate for higher reimbursement rates with their insurance payors. On average, this rate is between $4-$8 per session, which adds up over time.
  • Visibility: Make sure you have critical information accessible to your staff, such as what info each payer needs for maximum reimbursement or which patients have a balance that has fallen behind.
  • Integrated credit card processing: For patients that have signed your practice’s no-show/late/cancellation fees policies, this gives you the ability the charge the card on file immediately to collect payment for the no show.
  • Reporting and tracking: It is common for an insurance company to tell you that they won’t pay you because a claim wasn’t submitted on time. A billing software with claim submission reports allows you to see the date of submission and track timely filling. If you have reporting capabilities that allow you to see productivity by payor or your average amount of days charges are outstanding, you can make important business decisions that will help you to get paid more, and sooner.

Reduce the Risk for Your Mental Health Business

You work hard day-in and day-out to provide exceptional clinical care. You have taken steps to increase your profitability. However, for many behavioral health practices, thinking about how to reduce the risk of litigation or how to pass an audit with little effort, takes the back burner. In high-stakes situations, a bad plan or sub-par technology can be detrimental for your practice – or your patients. The final step to improving your mental health business is to reduce your risk.

Be prepared for an audit or legal action at any time

For many practices, clinical documentation is handwritten, printed, or scattered throughout a variety of Microsoft Word documents. When being audited or subpoenaed, a significant amount of work must go into consolidating, sifting through, and filling holes in your documentation. Not only does this take an inordinate amount of time, but it creates a high level of stress for all involved.

With the right EHR, your practice is always ready for whatever comes its way, be it an audit or a lawsuit. Here’s the functionality you should look for that will ensure you’re ready at the drop of a hat:

  • Integration and automation: With integration and automation between scheduling, documentation, and billing, there is an error-free journey for claims and documentation, giving you peace of mind that your notes and accounts are secure and reliable.
  • Robust reporting: This makes an auditor’s job easy to pull the data they need quickly.
  • A good dashboard: Gives clear and highly prioritized data to clinicians and administrators so they can stay on top of important financial and hygienic KPIs.
  • Detailed documentation: It is critical to be prepared for any common legal scenarios that commonly happen in the world of private practice, including subpoenas, suicide risk assessments, malpractice suits, etc. Using an EHR that’s built specifically for behavioral health will arm you with the most appropriate documentation for these scenarios. Detailed documentation allows you to be prepared and confident for any otherwise-unnerving situation.

Can Behavioral Health Software Improve Your Mental Health Business?

If you’ve already optimized your practice for these three pillars, congratulations! If there are areas where you would still like to improve, we invite you to check out Valant’s Behavioral Health EHR and see if it may be a good fit for your practice.