Monthly Archives: February 2013

Monmouth University counseling students coordinate relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy

Heather Rudow February 1, 2013

photoWhen historic “superstorm” Hurricane Sandy tore through the East Coast this past October, more than 120 lives were lost and countless others were changed forever, as storm victims were forced to rebuild homes, businesses and lives in the aftermath. Two counseling students at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., decided to help in any way they could — even if it didn’t necessarily result in practicing any counseling themselves.

Monmouth students Jennifer Trimarchi and Ellen Brody, both members of the American Counseling Association, knew they wanted to get involved with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts even though they were not qualified to counsel survivors. In order to be eligible to provide counseling, students had to be at the practicum or internship-level of the counseling program — Trimarchi and Brody do not begin that until the end of this month.

“When [Hurricane Sandy] happened, we met with our professor because we wanted to do something for the people in the area who had been affected,” says Trimarchi, who is also president of Monmouth’s Counseling Students Association (CSA).

Joanne Jodry, a counseling professor at Monmouth University, says the students filled an important role that some of the members of the disaster relief crisis teams could not. “Some of the people on the teams didn’t have any houses,” says Jodry, who is the CSA faculty adviser and a member of ACA and the New Jersey Counseling Association. “It was really up to them.”

As coordinators on behalf of Monmouth University, Trimarchi and Brody were in charge of signing up interested counseling students to join relief efforts, which were coordinated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Monmouth County Division of Mental Health & Addiction Services, and assigning students to the sites. They also coordinated the efforts of other non-practicum-level counseling students who wanted to help. These students participated by joining in cleanup efforts and donating supplies and food.

“We were trying to keep it as organized as possible so none of these FEMA sites were overwhelmed and none of the victims were overwhelmed either,” Trimarchi says.

Trimarchi and Brody were completely in charge of the endeavor since Monmouth faculty members were consumed with their own rebuilding efforts post-Sandy, Jodry says. Though many of the faculty from Monmouth’s psychological counseling department also participated by frequently visiting FEMA sites to assist the students and provide any supervision necessary when they could.  Trimarchi and Brody’s coordination efforts lasted from the end of October until around Christmas, when the government was able to hire individuals to provide the counseling services that the students were offering.

Jodry was able to be the connection for the students to FEMA through the Monmouth County Division of Mental Health & Addictions. Each county has its own disaster crisis team, connected to FEMA, and coordinated with local officials who were notified that the students were interested in helping.

“These two were just amazing with the amount of work they did,” Jodry says. “They came in and worked their fingers to the bone. They were on call 24 hours a day.”

Steve Horvath, assistant director of Monmouth County’s Division of Mental Health & Addiction Services, echoes Jodry.

“The efforts of the Monmouth University students was a critical piece of the response, and I am very appreciative of their help,” he says. “It was really a self-directed response.”

Most of the counseling students were sent to an evacuation shelter that was originally located at Monmouth University but was then relocated to the Monmouth Park Race Track. At one point, Horvath says, the shelter’s population swelled to roughly 1,100 inhabitants.

The students filled a very necessary gap at the shelter. “FEMA people were helping these people deal with bureaucratic things such as signing papers and getting help from the government,” Horvath says. “But a lot of these were people who were crying, and a lot of these people needed handholding, and that’s where these Monmouth University students came in.”

This was especially important, Horvath says, because about half the team of regular responders had been personally affected by the storm.”

Most Monmouth students hail from places outside of the New Jersey shore area, making it easier for them to volunteer, as they were not as directly impacted by the hurricane.

Brody says she enjoyed the role of coordinator because she was able to help in multiple ways. “I did want to help in some way, and although I couldn’t provide counseling [myself], I did want to help my peers who [needed] to get those hours for graduation as well as help those in the community get connected with the services they needed.”

Some of the Monmouth counseling students were interning at sites that were closed down because of the storm, so they used the FEMA sites as part of their supervised practice.

Trimarchi feels she impacted the community and made a difference in the victims’ lives even though she was not on the ground with them.

“I felt that I was helping even though I wasn’t going in to counsel people,” she says. “I was helping by sending people and food into these sites. I was helping in some sort of way, and that’s what I hope to do in some sort of way when I start my internship.”

While Brody’s home was not impacted by the hurricane, she lost her job at the café where she worked in Monmouth Beach. “They’re still in the process of completely renovating and gutting it,” she says.

Brody says she was grateful to take on the task of coordinator because it gave her a way to channel her desire to help the hurricane victims.

“It made me feel as though I had a purpose during this time,” she says. “The entire area was devastated, but I didn’t know where to direct my efforts. I didn’t know where to start and it was great to have some place to direct my efforts even though I couldn’t be there in a hands-on sort of way.”

Trimarchi says the role of acting as a coordinator came naturally to her. “People asked me, ‘Are you stressed out? Are you overwhelmed?’ But honestly, I was happy to do this,” she says.

Since acting as a coordinator, Trimarchi is now hoping to get trained in crisis intervention counseling. “I don’t think I had an interest in that before,” she says. “God forbid this ever happens again, I do want to be more prepared.”

Brody feels a renewed sense of faith in her career path since the coordination efforts.

“It’s definitely [reaffirmed] that this is the career path I want,” she says. “All these people can band together and bring that sense of community back together. We were all disconnected [after Hurricane Sandy], but these counseling students can go into the community and bring the community back together, and that is a powerful thing. Coordinating these efforts proved even more strongly that being in the counseling profession is exactly where I want to be.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Why I am tired of thanking our members

Richard Yep

Richard YepI know it is an unusual headline for a column, but in looking back through past issues of Counseling Today, I was struck by the number of times I have expressed appreciation to so many of you for contacting ACA about volunteering your services after some natural or person-made disaster. I am constantly in awe of your goodness and your willingness to use your skills and expertise to help those affected by tragedy. So, don’t get me wrong. I genuinely appreciate your willingness to help. But I am concerned about the increasing number of times I am compelled to thank you each year.

As I write this, our most recent tragedy is the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 schoolchildren and six school staff members were killed. This past July, one of our own ACA members, Alex Teves, was among 12 people killed at a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., as he shielded his girlfriend from harm. Fifty-eight others were wounded in that massacre. Look back over the past several years, and all you have to do is mention Columbine, Virginia Tech, 9/11, Oklahoma City or any number of other places to remember the horror of what humans can do to other humans. And I know a good number of you are involved in responding to tragedies and traumatic incidents that occur around the globe as well.

In addition, let’s not forget the violent acts conducted in many urban areas each and every day. Professional counselors working in community agencies, private practices, hospitals, schools and colleges are brought in (or volunteer their time) to help in the aftermath of these occurrences as well.

In the wake of such person-created tragedies, there often follows an outcry for politicians to focus on gun control. However, we are now hearing more people talk about access to mental health services as well. To me, this is a long-overdue demand that should be free of partisan or ideological bickering on the part of our elected officials.

I hope you will chime in on this discussion as well. Why? Because as professional counselors, counselor educators or graduate students preparing to practice, you are the ones who have seen the suffering that is the result of a society with inadequate access to mental health services.

I realize we cannot always know with certainty what makes someone engage in an act as horrific and heart-wrenching as what took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School — an act that caused virtual strangers thousands of miles away to shed tears upon hearing about it. But what we do know is that the work you and your colleagues do really can be instrumental in reducing the probability of even more heinous acts.

Isn’t it about time that we all let our public policymakers know that properly funding mental health services really is an investment that will reap greater benefits to society than they have even imagined? I understand the importance of a balanced budget and spending within our means. But I also realize there are times when investing in services can benefit all of society and will lead to an even more prosperous (and peaceful) world.

As always, I look forward to your comments, questions, and thoughts. Feel free to call me at 800.347.6647 ext. 231 or via email at ryep@counseling.org. You can also follow me on Twitter: @RichYep.

Be well.

 

Deep federal spending cuts averted — for now

Scott Barstow, Art Terrazzas & Jessica Eagle

Hours after the start of the new year, Congress and President Obama agreed to a package of tax cuts, tax increases and spending changes to avert the major policy changes scheduled to take place under previous law. The Senate passed the package — the American Taxpayer Relief Act (H.R. 8) — by a vote of 89-9, and the House of Representatives followed suit with a vote of 257-167. Both chambers passed the bill Jan. 1.

Under the legislation, the tax increases scheduled to take effect at the beginning of the year were removed for most Americans. Tax rates for individuals making more than $400,000 and couples making more than $450,000 went up 4.96 percent. The measure makes permanent the tax cuts for households making less than those amounts.

The measure also postpones for two months the major spending reductions that had been scheduled for Jan. 2. School counselors and educators remain in a holding pattern regarding what to expect in terms of spending, however. Congress has yet to decide on funding levels for education programs for the second half of federal Fiscal Year 2013, extending from the end of March through the end of September. The 113th Congress, which began its term Jan. 3, was faced with immediately having to begin hammering out either a broader deficit reduction agreement, including both spending cuts and tax increases, or another short-term measure to allow time for more negotiation. Because of the budgetary discussions being postponed for two more months, we are unlikely to see the new Congress tackle laws such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These major education laws fund and support school counselors and their students, and each of these laws is long overdue for reauthorization.

H.R. 8 postpones for one year the 27 percent reduction in physician payment rates that was scheduled to take effect at the beginning of January. The Congressional Budget Office estimated this postponement to cost $25.2 billion over the next 10 years. The 113th Congress will remain under pressure to somehow address this issue in 2013 without the underlying payment formula being changed. This will provide us with another potential vehicle for attaching legislative language to establish Medicare coverage of counselors.

HHS proposes rule for essential health benefits

On Nov. 26, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a proposed rule regarding the “essential health benefits” that health plans will be required to offer through state insurance exchanges beginning in 2014. The Affordable Care Act stipulates that health plans must cover 10 categories of health benefits, including “mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment.” In the proposed rule, HHS would require health plans to provide these services in a manner consistent with the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). Although HHS needs to issue more regulations to fully implement MHPAEA, it was important that the parity requirements were linked with the essential health benefits requirements under the Affordable Care Act.

The American Counseling Association submitted comments on the essential health benefits regulations, expressing strong support for requiring plans to adhere to MHPAEA requirements in providing essential health benefits. ACA also expressed support for the proposed rule’s provisions regarding existing state-mandated health benefits. In the rule, HHS requires states to defray the costs of providing state-required benefits that go beyond the essential health benefits package. However, HHS is proposing that states not be required to defray costs associated with abiding by state laws related to provider types — such as requiring coverage of services provided by counselors. State counselor coverage laws should be viewed as upholding patient access to care, not as establishing benefits different from those required under the Affordable Care Act.

New Congress offers new opportunities for advocacy

January marked the beginning of the 113th Congress, meaning new senators and representatives from across the country were sworn in and began their work. Although many members of Congress were re-elected, quite a few new faces are serving in Washington for the first time.

In light of this recent turnover, we are encouraging ACA members to visit the offices of their federal lawmakers as they begin this new session. You can find out who your senators are by visiting senate.gov and who your congressmen and congresswomen are by visiting house.gov.

Please take some time to visit their official websites and sign up for their e-newsletters, Twitter accounts and other social media outlets. You can then be notified about events near you where you might get the opportunity to talk to your elected officials about counseling issues. We encourage ACA members to stay in touch with their legislators in Washington so these public officials will know about the needs of counselors and their clients, as well as the wonderful work that counselors do in their communities.

It starts and ends with you!

Bradley T. Erford

Bradley-TThis month’s cover story is on bullying, a terrible societal concern among our youths, but also one that still occurs regularly in the adult population. Although some studies indicate that physical bullying is declining among school-age youths, relational aggression and cyberbullying have yet to peak. The humiliation experienced by victims of any kind of bullying is devastating — at any age.

One of the factors often linked to bullying behaviors is the environmental context. People who experience bullying behaviors do not feel safe in their environments. They also feel disempowered to make the behaviors and insults stop. We have made great strides in passing policies and codes of conduct, but we have a long way yet to go.

Unfortunately, bullying is not an act that occurs just between the bully and the victim. Bystanders and witnesses (youths and adults) perpetuate and support this behavior by failing to intervene. The same is true in relational aggression, cyberbullying and even gossiping — all are aimed at destroying the social connections of the victim. Making society a more peaceful and equitable place requires constant vigilance; quick, thoughtful actions; and mutual respect among all people. How we deal with conflict, gossip and the people affected is a reflection of who we are as professionals — and as human beings. We would never treat our clients and students that way; there is no place for physical or relational aggression in the safety of a confidential counseling relationship based on genuineness, respect and empathy.

As a professional community, we are a microcosm of this larger society and have the opportunity to create an environment for respectful, peaceful discussions about issues of importance to express opinions and forge consensus. Often we are successful; sometimes we fail. Some of you are aware of the recent conflicts that have played out on professional Listservs, where counseling professionals have engaged in what I can only describe, in the politest terms, as uncivil discourse. Although I heartily support freedom of speech, the tone of the “discussion” on one Listserv led to dozens of people leaving the Listserv altogether. I imagine many, many more removed themselves without signing off publicly. This incident made me recall that just because we have the freedom to say something doesn’t mean that we have to — or even should. There truly is a difference between a right and a responsibility.

ACA is committed to sustaining the environmental context of respectful discourse that our members expect — one that treasures the richness that comes from diverse thoughts and perspectives aimed at elevating our clients and students through legislative and social justice initiatives. The “soft launch” of ACA’s exceptionally improved website in mid-January is a testament to this mission. It provides cutting-edge professional information, such as the new ACA Practice Briefs, and allows groups of members to connect in safe environments for educational, professional and interpersonal development.

ACA respects and values the diverse beliefs of our members and believes the path to meaningful professional and social change is through engagement, discussion, collaboration and thoughtful, proactive professional and legislative initiatives. This path is the polar opposite of physical, cyber- and relational aggression. Words mean things; behaviors matter. How we treat others and mind our manners are extensions of who we are at our core.

My deepest hope is that from these events, a culture of civility, nurturance and forgiveness will continue to be forged, and that ACA, its divisions, branches and professional partners will continue to represent a place where all members feel welcome and where all voices — not just the most persistent, the loudest and certainly not the rudest — can be heard. We need to model for our students, clients and each other how to resolve conflict productively and create an environment of safety, respect and support. It all starts and stops with each and every one of us.

Evaluating cloud-based practice management systems

Rob Reinhardt

cloudtie

Click here to read part two in this series.

Many of us in private practice have expressed the desire for a paperless office, although this dream has become a possibility only in recent years. Completing all of our work via a laptop or tablet is a panacea that saves time, hassle and, usually, money. One of the major pieces of the paperless office puzzle is the cloud-based practice management system.

Most counselors know that a practice management system handles features such as scheduling, notes, billing and claims filing. Until recently, these packages required “traditional” software, installed on a computer or server. But an explosion of cloud-based solutions has since taken place. In this two-part series, I will provide an overview of these solutions, as well as considerations when evaluating them for use in private practice.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is the delivery of software or storage over the Internet to a group of end users. Facebook, Dropbox and QuickBooks Online are well-known cloud solutions. These solutions exist on a server and are accessible via any device that can connect to the Internet. A more specific term for practice management solutions delivered via the cloud is “Software as a Solution” (SaaS).

With traditional software, there is typically a significant up-front cost that involves the purchase of both the software and the hardware (computer/server) to run it. Then there is the absorption of the cost of maintenance and support. Typically, these software solutions are accessible only via a local network, and additional users or upgrades to the software normally increase that cost.

With cloud-based solutions, the software is already installed on an Internet server owned by someone else (the vendor). These solutions require only an Internet connection and a web browser for access. This approach allows entry and viewing of data from multiple offices and multiple devices. Typically, little up-front cost is involved; instead, there is a monthly fee.

Although the long-term costs of a cloud solution eventually can approach the costs of a traditional software solution, a couple of factors mitigate this. Costs associated with a cloud solution cover not only maintenance and storage but also ongoing development that includes new features and upgrades.

Now is a great time to find a cloud-based practice management system. Dozens of companies are developing solutions and competing for business. Because this is a new and developing technology, many of these companies are open to user feedback and are developing their systems rapidly. With this new trend, expect regular updates and new features.

HIPAA

One of the first considerations when evaluating a cloud-based system is security. Mental health care professionals are well aware of the importance of complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 clarified rules regarding electronic communication and storage of protected health information (PHI). At this writing, when it comes to software, two core components must be in place for HIPAA compliance:

  • The software and vendor policies and practices must adhere to HIPAA regulations.
  • The clinician and software vendor must enter into a business associate agreement.

The first step is easy and somewhat meaningless. Most vendors marketing this kind of software will report that they are HIPAA compliant. To truly seal the deal, they should be willing to enter into a business associate agreement. This contract is a legal document that clearly states how the vendor is in compliance with HIPAA and what steps it is responsible for taking to ensure continued compliance.

HITECH added new provisions requiring that all electronic PHI be encrypted to be considered secure. The question of whether PHI is secure becomes relevant when considering the new Breach Notification Rule. According to the HITECH Act, a breach is defined as “an impermissible use or disclosure under the Privacy Rule that compromises the security or privacy of the protected health information such that the use or disclosure poses a significant risk of financial, reputational or other harm to the affected individual.”

Should such a breach occur, the covered entity is required to notify all individuals affected by the breach and report the breach to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Further, if the breach affects 500 or more individuals, or if current contact data for 10 or more of those individuals are not accurate, the media must also be alerted. If the covered entity is using qualified encryption techniques, however, it is possible to bypass the Breach Notification Rule. It is important to note that the HITECH law defines very specific qualified encryption techniques, and most of the affordable solutions available do not utilize these techniques. For that reason, it is important that plans for handling a potential breach are addressed within the business associate agreement as well as in a practice’s HIPAA privacy statement.

With electronic applications, HIPAA is complex. Consult with a qualified attorney regarding the implications of using any electronic system for storage and transmission of PHI.

Notes

Notes are an integral part of the work of counselors. Maintaining good clinical notes allows a provider to recall information more readily, focus on targeted goals, track progress and fulfill insurance company requirements. Other notes kept may include psychotherapy/process notes, contact notes, appointment cancellation notes, termination notes, assessments and more.

In software solutions, notes are typically attached to a client record, sortable and accessible with a click or two. Compared with locating a specific note in a file folder in a locked filing cabinet, the time savings are obvious. With cloud-based systems, the ability to access these notes from any Internet device is invaluable.

There are many features to consider when evaluating an electronic note-taking solution. In many cases, what must be included in a note is driven by insurance company requirements. There is often some discretion in how notes meet these requirements. However, a well-organized, full-featured notation system makes it easier not to miss anything.

It is important to also consider two key pieces of HIPAA when evaluating a software solution for notes. First, HIPAA specifically requires that psychotherapy or process notes be kept separately from the medical record. Most systems implement this by keeping clinical and process notes in separate fields and by not including the process notes in any printing of the clinical record. To be extra safe, consider not entering process notes into the software at all.

The second facet of HIPAA to consider concerns security. Electronic records containing PHI must be protected from improper alteration or destruction. This means the system must possess safeguards ensuring an unauthorized party cannot make changes or destroy the electronic record. In addition, for the record to be legally admissible, it must be locked and signed in a way that can be authenticated. This means the solution must provide an audit trail noting who signed the note.

HIPAA doesn’t specify how this must take place in an electronic record, so solutions are addressing this requirement in different ways. Consulting with an experienced HIPAA expert or attorney to ensure compliance is recommended.

Among additional features to look for and evaluate regarding notes:

  • Types of notes: These include intake, contact, appointment cancellation, discharge and assessment/evaluation notes.
  • Integrated treatment plans: A good system allows for creation of a treatment plan that is integrated into notes and documentation.
  • Prepopulation: Some systems will allow information to be pulled from previous notes and other client data into a new note.
  • Multiaxial diagnosis: This feature allows users to quickly enter diagnostic codes by using an auto-complete, search or pull-down menu system.
  • Clinical note styles: Some systems allow for multiple note styles, including SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment and plan) and narrative. A select few even allow creation of custom templates.
  • Required fields: It is important to note which fields must be filled out prior to saving. This can be very helpful in ensuring compliance with insurance and agency requirements.
  • Attachments: Having completed a written activity with a client, it is helpful to be able to upload a copy or scan of the activity to the client’s note.

Clients

Regarding clients, practitioners need to at least track names and contact information. If filing claims, other data points such as insurance ID, date of birth and referring doctor’s National Provider Identifier number become important. Practitioners who accept insurance may benefit from additional functionality such as the ability to track copays, deductibles and the number of approved sessions remaining. Any client information tracked beyond that point is a personal or business preference.

Different solutions may store specific client data in separate parts of their systems. For example, one solution might track the medications a client is taking directly in the client record. Other solutions require entering such information into an intake note. When evaluating a cloud-based solution, it is important to consider what data to track as well as how it should be organized.

Some additional features to look for and evaluate regarding clients:

  • Contacts: Counselors will need to track contact information for the client and for at least one emergency contact for the client. Ideally, practice management systems should be able to track alternative phone numbers and email addresses, and indicate if a client allows messages to be left at each contact point. The ability to add several related contacts for the client can be important, especially when working with children and/or blended families.
  • Integration: Providers should be able to quickly access data related to a client. Within a click or two, or even directly on the client page, a user should be able to view an individual client’s appointments, notes, insurance claims and billing.
  • Insurance tracking: Counselors who accept insurance need to be able to track information required to file a claim, including insurance identification
  • numbers, preauthorization codes and referring doctors.
  • Billing information: It is important to be able to quickly access a client’s fee and balance owed.
  • Attachments: In the quest to go paperless, the ability to upload intake forms, assessments and copies or images of insurance cards is essential.
  • Forms: Some solutions offer web-based forms that the counselor and/or client can complete. A select few solutions even allow creation of custom forms and incorporate electronic signatures, eliminating the need for paper forms altogether.
  • Custom fields: This feature allows the naming of fields and the tracking of information that doesn’t come standard with the product.
  • Search/reports: Being able to search and run reports on multiple criteria (name, date of birth, referral source, insurance company and so on) allows for more efficient use of the database.

Scheduling

Unless a counselor is gifted with perfect memory, a tool for keeping track of appointments is necessary. An appointment book still offers two distinct advantages over a traditional software solution: 1) counselors can retain possession of it at all times (portability) and 2) they do not need to be at the computer with calendar software running (access). The combination of cloud computing and mobile technology offers these same conveniences via laptop, tablet or smartphone — and throws in data backup to boot. Now, opening an appointment book can be as easy as powering on a mobile device.

As is the case with notes, appointment scheduling is a core feature of all cloud-based practice management systems on the market. A scheduling module should allow users to create appointments that include a date, time and client name or initials. Most systems link client data to appointments, allow creation of other types of appointments (meetings, lunches and so on) and display appointments both in daily and weekly formats. Other features are less universal, such as the ability to create recurring appointments, send appointment reminders to clients and give clients the ability to see their appointment schedules online.

Some additional features to look for and evaluate regarding scheduling:

  • Flexible views: This includes daily, weekly and monthly views of the calendar.
  • Client integration: It is important to be able to set an appointment with one click while viewing the client’s data screen. Similarly, it is nice to be able to access client data from his or her appointment on the calendar.
  • Additional integration: It saves time when appointments are also integrated with billing and electronic claims modules.
  • Recurring appointments: In counseling, recurring appointments are the norm, making the ability to create appointments that automatically repeat on a daily, weekly, biweekly or monthly basis especially valuable.
  • Customize availability: This feature allows counselors to enter the hours they are available for appointments, which cuts down on scheduling errors.
  • Client reminders: Appointment reminders decrease no-show and cancellation rates. Having a system that automatically sends these reminders via email, text and/or phone is a boon.
  • Track cancellations: The ability to track missed and canceled sessions is important.
  • Exportable: Exporting appointments to another calendar (typically in iCal format) allows users to integrate with their personal calendars, for example. Be sure to consider the privacy concerns that follow, however.
  • Privacy: Some systems provide preference settings for how to display client information on the calendar: full name, partial name or initials.
  • Client accessible: Some systems allow clients to log in and view their upcoming appointments.

In the second half of this two-part series, I will cover billing, electronic claim filing, client portal and miscellaneous features, and list the current products on the market.

This article and the article to follow in March are distilled from a 12-part series that the author originally published at tameyourpractice.com/blog

HIPAA and mental health professionals

Most counselors are well-acquainted with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations regarding privacy. Many professionals, however, have only a basic knowledge of the security facets of HIPAA. With the recent release of the HIPAA Final Rule, it has become even more important that counselors are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to security electronic PHI (protected health information). In an upcoming article for his new Counseling Today column, Rob Reinhardt will be exploring where counselors are now, where they need to be and how they can get there. Please help him tackle the first part of his article by completing a brief survey about mental health professionals and HIPAA at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MJPHTCF.

Rob Reinhardt, a licensed professional counselor and ACA member, is a private practice and business consultant. Before becoming a professional counselor, he worked as a software developer and director of information technology. Contact him at rob@tameyourpractice.com.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org