Answers to the 7 BIG QUESTIONS That Can Keep Your Private Practice From Evolving & Growing in Uncertain Times
Bob Dylan was right. The times they are a-changing. Today is so different from just a couple of weeks ago. The quick and drastic changes we are experiencing can produce a bit of a shock for us, as therapists, as well as our clients.
I help private practitioners get more private pay clients. In an effort to help them, and you, manage concerns about surviving and thriving in private practice in these unsettling times, I thought I’d address and share some of the biggest fears/concerns/questions I’m hearing from my coaching clients.
1. How do I adjust to this new way of helping?
Many of us have never done telehealth before. Sure, maybe we’ve done a phone session or the odd video session here and there. Or maybe we’ve taken the training but never quite embraced the concept fully. Well… here we are. Thrown into the deep end without flippers or goggles. In a matter of hours and days, we’ve had to respond to something so big and critical – with no time to prepare.
Using video, phone, email or text might be second nature to some, but not all of us. Because it feels foreign, it might seem like a new way of helping. It’s not. You’re still working with your clients to address their concerns and problems; you’re processing their feelings and thoughts. The environment is different, but the work is the same. Of course, everything affects the process, but overall the work is the same.
You’ll feel a lot better once you are more familiar and comfortable with the new tools you’re using. You’ll be fine once the glitches are out and your biggest fear for the session ceases to be about internet connectivity.
Organization is key. Utilize the wonderful resources out there to guide you in your choice of platforms, your forms and documentation, and (essentially) the dos and don’ts of telehealth. Take advantage of the free and paid course offerings so you can be sure you are in compliance. With this, you’ll gain the confidence to focus on your clients, just as you did in your clinical office.
Ready to start preparing for your first telehealth session?
Download these two free checklists to use before your very first session and before every session:
2. How will I convince my clients to do sessions via telehealth?
Let your clients know of your decision to stop face-to-face sessions and offer telehealth options for their continued care. Let them know your choice was made in the best interest of your and their health, and to comply with efforts to contain the pandemic. Give them a forced choice. Mine are video or phone. I ask my clients which of the options would be preferable to them and let them choose.
There may be some resistance. Not everyone feels comfortable with technology. Be prepared for this. Write a simple “how-to” email or record a quick video tutorial showing them how easy it is to click the link and get into your virtual waiting room.
Find an easy platform and spend the $35 a month (or so) to upgrade and get the features that allow you to personalize their experience. They’ll see your face (and maybe your logo) and read your personal message in your waiting room. It’ll make them feel more at home.
Offer to walk them through it if they are really confused. Get them on the phone for a 5-minute walk through the day before their first session if they need it. Let them know you’re there to help and that you’ll take this leap into the 21st century together!
Make all the instructions very simple. Bullet points. Send a reminder email the day before their session to remind them of the simple steps to access their session. Tell them: “You get to my virtual waiting room, and I’ll take us from there”.
3. How will I retain my clients on telehealth?
You’ll retain your clients on telehealth the same way you do in the office. Be engaging. Lots of eye contact. Don’t get distracted or multitask through sessions. I find this work to be much more intense than in my office. The nature of the closer proximity (screen to screen) really makes a difference.
Do your best work. Follow your treatment plans but allow for the ever-increasing anxiety folks might be feeling due to the pandemic. Sometimes your job is going to be to talk them down from the ledge they may be on due to confinement, health concerns, and overall fear.
They’ll keep coming as long as you are providing what they need. Find out what that is. It may change from session to session in these times. Stay ahead of the game by asking and normalizing as much as possible.
Ready to move your practice online during coronavirus?
Learn the 5 steps to transition your therapy practice
to telehealth in this free email course.
4. How do I retain my clients who don’t want to use telehealth?
You’ll likely have some folks who refuse any telehealth option. They’ll tell you they’re okay and will wait until you are back in the office.
Chances are great that this is going to last more than just a few weeks. That’s a long time between sessions. Be there for them. Send a quick and brief, caring email every 7-10 days just to check in and remind them you’re there for them. You may want to consider a ó page (email) newsletter that you share with your clients (just be sure not to put everyone on a blind cc: — be sure your correspondence is HIPAA compliant).
Let them know that the telehealth process is actually working for many others and you can help make it work for them as well. That being said, if they refuse to re-engage make a plan to help them follow through on their treatment. This might be done in a session with you over the phone. Provide referrals into the community (in writing) and urge your clients to move forward in their healing.
5. What happens when my client gets laid off and can’t afford me?
Finances are a real problem for some clients. Working at home, perhaps you can be more flexible. Offer briefer sessions for a lower fee. Defer payments if you’re comfortable doing so. Do what it takes to accept HSA/FSA cards.
If the money issue cannot be resolved, provide good referrals into the community (in writing) and provide records and collaboration to the new clinician if requested.
6. Where do I find new clients for telehealth?
The first place to start is with the people you know. Reach out NOW to everyone who has ever referred to you. Reach out to colleagues, your own physicians and clergy, and anyone who might know people who need you. Let them know you’ve set up a telehealth shop and you are ready to help.
Based on your areas of specialization, reach out to the gatekeepers in your market. (i.e. If you work with kids, contact pediatricians, guidance departments, school psychologists, teachers, and parents to let them know you are providing telehealth services). Let these gatekeepers know that you’re there, you’re prepared, and you’re ready to help them help their people.
7. What else can I offer?
Now’s a great time to be creative. Perhaps you’d like to do an online group. You might do a support group for parents who are home with their kids 24/7. Maybe you want to do a weekly meeting to share ideas for how to stay engaged and busy when you can’t leave home. You might want to establish “call-in” hours to answer questions and address concerns people might have as they go through this uncertain time.
Workbooks, e-books, videos, audio downloads, and on and on. Be creative. Think about what “your people” NEED and DESIRE and how you can help. This diversification might help you with the overwhelm and boredom you may be experiencing as well.
Be sure to add these items and services to your website and any therapist directories you may utilize. Let everyone you know, know what you’re doing. Utilize social media if you are able to do so. People can’t benefit from your help and knowledge if they don’t know you’re there.
Take care of you!
Be safe. Be healthy. Even though you’re working from home, keep it separate as much as possible. Close the computer or the door to your office when you’re not seeing clients. Meditate, pray, exercise, knit. Find time for you and the things you value.
We will get through this. One day at a time.