Tag: policy writing

In this blog series, “Managing Your Private Practice,” we look at how to successfully run your private practice as a mental health professional. We started the series with a dive into how to market your private practice. Now, let’s look at a critical yet sometimes overlooked element in owning a business: policy writing.

Written policy forms are an essential component for any successful business. Therapists have an additional responsibility when it comes to paperwork: you need to ensure your bases are covered when it comes to legal, ethical, and HIPAA compliance. Fortunately, Health Affiliates Maine is here to help clinicians when it comes to compliance and current regulations.

How to Write Effective Office Policies

How a counselor runs their private practice varies from person to person. Regardless of your office size or structure, there are several office policies we advise all practices to put in writing. While some behavioral health practitioners with staff develop internal policies specific to issues such as dress code and social media, we’ll focus on advice for external office policies here—the policies your clients will see and review. Here are some guidelines for how to write effective office policies.

Office Policies Reflect Your Practice’s Core Values

When you give clients forms to fill out, it’s not only important to ensure they are clearly written in simple, easy-to-understand language, it’s also essential to make sure the forms reflect your private practice’s core values. For example, if you value inclusion and diversity, you might want to create or modify an existing form or template to include options for preferred pronouns. Remember, while filling out paperwork such as an authorization to release information, intake, insurance, and informed consent forms, as well as signing office policies, your client is getting an impression of your business.

Get Feedback

Whether you consult a colleague, a mentor, or a trusted office assistant, getting feedback from others is invaluable. Outside perspectives allow others to see things you may be too “inside” your own practice to notice, and others may also have more experience around which areas of the practice need or could use written policies to make the office run more smoothly.

So, by all means, ask a friend or colleague to review the packet of forms you’ve created and get their impression. Ask:

  • Was there enough space to write your answers?
  • Is it easy to follow?
  • Are there areas of unnecessary repetition?
  • Did you find any typos?
  • How could this be simplified?
  • Which changes or additions would you make, if any?
  • Am I missing something obvious and important? (We all do this!)

While involving others in policy writing and reviewing takes more time, the final outcome of a collaborative process ultimately makes for smoother operations and happier clients. If that’s hard to add to your to-do list, consider reframing the time investment as optimizing your client’s care.

Strive for Clarity

Setting clear policies in writing is a bit like setting clear boundaries: it helps everyone know what to expect. Clear is kind.
Make it part of your therapy practice to include office policies in a new client’s paperwork and reshare annually or when policies change. Successful practitioners have standardized forms and make use of a secure, organized paper filing and recordkeeping system.

At the same time, don’t assume clients will read through all the forms. During your first session, discuss your office policies briefly. This helps ensure that expectations are clear and understood, and it contributes to building trust in the professional relationship you’re developing.

Which Office Policies Do I Need in Private Practice?

Which office policies you include in client packets are somewhat unique to the practice you run. In general, we advise therapists to develop written office policies around cancellations, fees, social media, and—important in Maine—weather. (Keep in mind office policies are separate from other paperwork you should require from clients, including intake, insurance or billing, authorization to release information, and informed consent forms.)

Cancellations and missed appointments: Life’s little mix-ups happen. But as a counselor in private practice, missed appointments can disrupt the treatment process and therefore adversely affect your income and business—particularly if they are a chronic, recurring issue. Craft a clear understanding with your clients in writing about what happens when you or they need to cancel, in addition to missed appointments.

Fees: Practitioners may accept all or some insurance, self-pay, and/or having slide scale fees. However you structure payment, be clear and upfront with clients about how (and when) you charge and collect fees in your practice. Include your fee structure with a written policy on payment and collections in every client package, regardless of whether they currently have insurance; and, of course, all practitioners should be up to date on the new GFE (Good Faith Estimate) law, which requires providers to give patients who either do not have or are not using insurance a written estimate for non-emergency procedures. (Find more information on GFE requirements here.)

Social media: Use of social media is prevalent in our country, so therapy practices in particular need policies on the use of Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and the like. Set clear boundaries on how you or anyone in your practice orbit may communicate with prospective and current clients online, keeping in mind that some clients may have differing preferences around privacy. And, while we’re focusing this blog on external office policies, if you have an office assistant or other staff, we strongly encourage you to set an internal social-media policy for staff. And, finally, check with your licensing board and code of ethics to see what is required regarding confidentiality and social media use.

Weather: Maine knows snow days! Develop a written office policy on what happens in the event of inclement weather, letting clients know how you will get ahold of them or how they can check in with your office to see if it is open. Will you call them or text them? Should they check your practice’s website if the weather forecast looks questionable? While it may seem a small matter, this office policy will help eliminate confusion and smooth operations in the long term.

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