Counseling Today, Features

Technology Tutor: Tech resolutions for the new year

By Rob Reinhardt December 23, 2015

I don’t make personal New Year’s resolutions. For me, it feels more authentic to assess, evaluate and make resolutions year-round. I also take this approach in my business.

However, I find that the dawn of the new year is a great time for big-picture business resolutions. For most businesses, the end of the calendar year also means the end of the fiscal year. This means To Do Listthere are numbers to look at and crunch and, possibly, board meetings and other opportunities to discuss the company’s direction. This is a natural time to examine what’s working and what isn’t and to look toward new initiatives.

With that in mind, I present some recommended tech- and business-centric resolutions to consider for yourself and your practice. Rather than taking them all on, I encourage you to choose those that fit the overall goals for your practice.

Kick bad habits and create new, healthy ones. The age-old basis for New Year’s resolutions is the end of bad habits and the start of good ones. From a business standpoint, this means examining how you’re doing things. What’s working? What’s not? What has room for improvement? Have your recent marketing ventures provided a good return on investment (see tameyourpractice.com/ROI)? Are any of your policies, procedures or approaches outdated (such as maintaining a Yellow Pages ad)? Is the new technology you implemented accomplishing what you had hoped? What area of your practice could be made more efficient or effective?

Many of the suggestions that follow fall under this umbrella, but it’s always good to start with a top-down view to identify areas of need.

Ensure that your contact form is secure. This is a resolution you can make not only for the good of your practice but also for the good of your current and future clients. Imagine how much better clients will feel knowing that, when they write to you, the contact form on your website is encrypted and secure. In keeping this resolution, you’ll also be taking steps to comply with both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics. Standard H.2.d. of the ethics code states: “Counselors use current encryption standards within their websites and/or technology-based communications that meet applicable legal requirements. Counselors take reasonable precautions to ensure the confidentiality of information transmitted through any electronic means.”

As I have noted in a previous column, the primary purpose of encryption in this context is to secure electronic protected health information. When it comes to your website, the contact form is usually the only place where such information is transmitted (and then stored). Consider making a resolution for your practice and your clients to secure this important communication channel. Read tameyourpractice.com/email for options.

Consider an electronic health record/practice management system. Implementation of the 10th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) in October was very telling. I heard from a great number of counselors who are still filing paper claims or using electronic systems that mimic the claims. They had many questions about how to handle the new codes, which code to use, whether to use a decimal point and more. People who were already using an integrated electronic medical record/electronic health record/practice management system already had their answers. Their chosen software solution was prepared to handle the transition for them.

This represents a microcosm of what I have seen over the past four years. Counselors who have found a practice management system that fits them solidly are saving themselves time and money because of the improved efficiency they experience. If you adopt this resolution, my list of reviews at tameyourpractice.com/EHRReviews offers a good starting point.

Make a transition plan. This resolution presents another opportunity to protect your clients. What would happen to them if you were no longer around? Do you have a plan in place to ensure they receive continued care? Will someone be able to step in and contact these clients in an emergency? Can someone access their records? How about your software and bank accounts? If you do have a plan, is it comprehensive enough?

This happens to be another item the ACA Code of Ethics requires us to address in Standard C.2.h. (Counselor Incapacitation, Death, Retirement or Termination of Practice): “Counselors prepare a plan for the transfer of clients and the dissemination of records to an identified colleague or records custodian in the case of the counselor’s incapacitation, death, retirement or termination of practice.

Listen to the ACA podcast on this topic to learn more: bit.ly/ACAprepared.

Take HIPAA seriously but without panicking (just get started). If you (or your billing representative/vendor) are filing electronic insurance claims, then you are a “covered entity” and must comply with HIPAA. This is not as simple as having your privacy notices in place, but it also doesn’t have to be overwhelming. The key is that you at least get started and show progress.

As counselors, we know that people can become overwhelmed by the big picture, so we often help them break things down into chunks and take it a bit at a time. This same approach can be applied to HIPAA. So resolve today to get started by doing a little bit at a time. The following article can help you get started or, if you’ve already begun the process, see what’s left to do: tameyourpractice.com/HIPAA.

 

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Rob Reinhardt, a licensed professional counselor supervisor, is a private practice and business consultant who helps counselors create and maintain efficient, successful private practices. Before becoming a professional counselor, he worked as a software developer and director of information technology. Contact him at rob@tameyourpractice.com.

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