Have you noticed that your intake process is not as streamlined as you’d like it to be? Maybe you are still taking all the calls for your practice, or you have too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. Taking some time to streamline your intakes will not only free up your time and reduce mistakes or wasteful processes, but it will help give you peace of mind.
Figuring out what is working and what isn’t for your practice’s intake process will help you understand what changes you may need to make to have it working seamlessly. What worked for you as a solo practitioner often doesn’t work when you have a group practice. When you are solo, you are in charge of everything, so if you forget to get your new client’s DOB, you can ask at the first session and get benefit info later. But when you have a group, the more that clinicians/billers/receptionists forget a piece of the puzzle, or if there isn’t an actual system in place, the high the likelihood of system chaos. Let’s take a look at a step by step checklist for streamlining your group practice’s intake process from a client’s initial call to their first appointment.
At the Initial Call:
Who is answering the calls? Is it you, a VA, receptionist, each of your therapists? Is it working for you? Depending on whether your clinicians are ICs or employees, your decision may differ. One thing is certain, if you are doing it, s.t.o.p. Your time is better served elsewhere. If you have your therapists do their own intake calls, the benefit is potential clients get to speak to their therapist and the therapist can best decide if a potential client is a good fit. The drawback is not having control of how quick calls are returned or keeping track of referrals. A VA is a great option for practice owners who would like to have more control over the intake process and keep stats on referrals, how many calls come in, and calls to schedule ratios. The potential drawback with many VAs for group practices (especially larger ones) is often the inability of the VA to truly know your individual therapists and know who potential client are a best fit for. An in receptionist is the most costly option (usually!) but comes with the tracking benefits, ability to answer calls immediately, and can schedule clients with the best fitting therapist (they will be working in the office with your therapists and will surely get to know them on a more personal level).
How quickly are initial calls and emails responded to? If you are using or choosing to use a receptionist, calls are typically answered immediately. Many VAs can also answer calls within certain time frames, although I would ask them what their procedure is for overflow calls and how quickly they return calls. If your therapists are answering their own intakes, this is something you may not know. What IS important to know, is that clients do not wait very long for a call back before calling another therapist. Also, if clients have to play phone tag (i.e. if you leave a message and when they return a call they again have to leave a message) they are less likely to schedule. Finding a way to have calls answered as soon as possible and having a good form on your website that sends you an email with everything you need to schedule an appointment will increase the likelihood of a potential client becoming a new client.
What information is needed at your intake calls? This one seems obvious, but I bet there are times the person who answers your group’s intake calls doesn’t get all the information they need at the initial call. Some things that may be needed are demographic info, if using insurance, insurance type, ID number, client DOB, insurance phone number (to check benefits), presenting issue, and whatever information the intake person needs to pick the best fitting clinician.
What information do you need to give at the intake call? I’ve changed this one over time, putting giving more information at the intake call than in the past. What I’ve noticed is that it reduces confusion later. Some information that can be discussed at the intake call after scheduling the appointment is your late cancel/no show policy, how payments are taken (at the time of service or by leaving a credit card on file), where they can get the intake paperwork, verifying they know your practice address (you’d be surprised how many clients get lost or have the wrong address!), how they will get their insurance benefit information (will they get a call back before their first session with this or will the clinician get it at the first session?). This piece will be a work in progress. As you see problems that arise, you can adjust and add to this part. Being as clear as possible in the intake (without overwhelming them) will reduce any confusion/anger by the client later. The more clinicians you have, the less you are able to make sure that they are all telling clients the same thing regarding office policies, and training one person to tell each client the same thing is easier than having all of your clinicians needing to remember all the pieces of information with each of their clients.
How/When are new clients getting their intake paperwork? Some practices have EHRs with patient portals that clients can fill out their intake paperwork and insurance cards in. Others email clients the intake paperwork. And others have them fill it out at the office. If you are not having clients fill out paperwork through a patient portal that goes directly to your EHR, you will need to make sure that your therapists are uploading the documents or storing them appropriately. Another thing to make sure of is that they are checking all parts of the paperwork, especially signature lines. I’ve seen many times in my own practice where a new client doesn’t sign the consent for treatment or HIPAA form and the clinician doesn’t check. The larger your practice gets, the harder it is to stay on top of everyone’s documents, so making sure that your therapists have a habit of checking every part of the intake paperwork is vital.
Email/text reminders? Have the ability to do this? Then do it (if the client is OK with it). Most are happy to have a reminder, and it greatly reduces no shows or late cancels.
When the client comes to their first session, there are a few things that will help the intake process conclude effectively:
- Having clinicians check and go over intake paperwork/HIPAA/policies with clients. Obviously important, but so often looked over by clinicians who want to just want to start counseling.
- Taking payments. Whether your procedure is to keep a credit card on file or take payment at the time of service, make sure clinicians are all doing the same thing.
- Storing paperwork and payments securely.
- Schedule next appointment.
This should get you started on streamlining your intake process so that more potential clients are being scheduled. Good luck!
Maureen Werrbach is a psychotherapist, group practice owner and group practice coach. Learn more about her coaching services here: LEARN MORE HERE