Over the years I have incorporated a number of tools into my practice to help work more efficiently and provide a better experience for my clients. As clinicians in private practice, we receive a lot of training on how to be effective therapists, but very little instruction on how to run a private practice. Here are some tools that I’ve found helpful.

Therapist Practice Management Software

When running a private practice, it’s critical to get the basics under control.  For me these are scheduling appointments, logging sessions with treatment types, logging payments, generating a bill, and generating basic reports such as a super bill or end of period reports.  When you are just getting started you can do this with basic tools such as Excel, but as your practice grows a software tool that was designed to perform these types of tasks is well worth the investment.

Resources for therapistsThere are many therapist practice management tools available, ranging in complexity and price.  The challenge is finding one that fits your needs and budget.  You don’t want to pay for more than you need, but you also want to choose wisely because once you make the investment into setting up the tool, it’s often time consuming to switch to an alternative.  Fortunately, most vendors provide a free trial option that lets you “test drive” the application and see if it works for you.

Features to look for in Practice Management Software

There are many features and options to evaluate, but here is a list of some that I consider basic requirements for any practice:

  • Appointment scheduling:  A flexible and easy to use appointment calendar is one of core requirements of practice management.
  • Session notes:  You may choose to keep session notes in a separate system, but most systems provide the option to record your session notes.
  • Log payments:  Entering payments for completed sessions (and being able to easily see which sessions are still unpaid) is another core requirement.
  • Invoicing and billing: (including superbill).  It should be easy to generate the typical bills and reports you need to provide to your clients.
  • Support for multiple users:  This wasn’t a requirement when I started my practice, but now that I’ve expanded the staff it’s critical that everyone have access to the calendar and be able to log their sessions.
  • Responsive customer service:  Having good support is critical to a successful practice management software implementation, particularly in the first few days and weeks.
  • HIPAA compliant: The vendor must be able to demonstrate that they comply with all applicable data security and confidentiality regulations

Additional features that I prefer:

  • Client reminders:  I recently started sending text or email reminders to my clients 24 hours in advance of their sessions.  The feedback from my clients has been very positive and it has significantly reduced the number of no-shows.  You can send these reminders separate from the system, but having them automatically sent based on the appointments logged in the calendar is a real time saver.
  • Insurance billing:  If you take insurance and submit claims to insurance providers, having electronic (EDI) integration to insurance clearing houses can be a huge benefit.
  • Client portal:  This provides your clients a self-service web page to download their invoices and superbills).
  • Payment processing: (process credit card and ACH payments).  I actually use a different service for payment processing, but like to know I have this option if I want to integrate it in the future.

Installed or Web-Based?

There are two main ways to access software:  install it on your local desktop/laptop, or access it from the internet using a web browser.  There are pros and cons to both.

Installed software typically has a one time purchase fee and then you pay for upgrades (which are typically optional).  An internet connection is not required to use the software (except for downloads or options like online payment processing).  If there is only one person using the software, installation is typically simple.  However, if there will be multiple people using the application, you will likely need to install the software on a shared server that everyone in your office can access.  This requires a network and some additional understanding of how to configure shared systems.  You also need to be diligent about backing up the data so that if you have a hardware failure your won’t lose crucial information.

Web-based software (also referred to as “cloud based” software) typically is sold on a subscription basis (monthly or annual fee).  There is nothing to install – you simply open your browser and login to the website.  However, you need a connection to the internet in order to access the system.  Web-based software also can usually be accessed from mobile devices such as a smartphone or tablet. All of your data is stored on the vendors servers, and is available to any of your staff that you provide access to.

Which is right for you?  It depends on your needs and budget.  Installed software typically has a higher up front cost but can be cheaper over time.  Web-based software can be easier to evaluate because there is nothing to install, but tends to cost more over time because of the recurring monthly fees.  The industry trend is towards the web-based model, and some features such as client portals require it.

How to pick the right practice management software

There are many vendors offering tools that meet these requirements, and deciding on the right choice can be daunting.  Here are some tips to guide you in the process.

  • Create a list of features that you are looking for, then divide it into “must haves” and “nice to haves”.  The must have feature list is what you can use to quickly eliminate vendors.
  • Look for software that will meet your needs today and has the flexilbility to grow with you over the next few years.
  • Don’t buy more than you need.  Some vendors applications cater to group practices with a variety of staff and roles.  If you are a sole-practitioner, it’s not a good match.  Try to pick a vendor that caters to the type of practice that you are.
  • Talk to colleagues and ask them what they are using.  I’ve found most of my colleagues usually have an opinion about the software and systems they are using — they either love them or are tolerating them and would prefer an alternative.
  • Take a test drive.  Most vendors have an evaluation period where you can try out their software without obligation.  Signup for the evaluation and process a one or two clients through the system, using it in parallel with your current process.  Actually using the software is the best way to determine whether it is a good fit.  It will also allow you to evaluate how easy (or cumbersome) the system is to use.

I hope this has provided a helpful introduction into practice management software.  If you are not currently using one, I highly recommend considering incorporating it into your practice.  It can significantly improve the efficiency of the daily tasks of maintaining your business.  If you have a system that you are frustrated or dissatisfied with, take a fresh look at what the current offerings are.  There are new vendors and features available that may be a better fit for your practice.

Either way, I would love to hear your opinions and experience.  What software do you recommend?  Let me know in the comments section below.

Links to resources

  • Capterra  This site provides reviews of business software, and has an entire section for mental health software.
  • Cloud Practice Management  This page has a fairly comprehensive set of reviews of web-based (Cloud) practice management systems.  They also offer a service to help you pick the right solution for your needs.  It’s not clear how often they update their reviews, so refer to each vendor’s website for the most up to date information.
  • GoodTherapy.org  This page displays a variety of tools and resources for therapists, including a list of software for therapists.  Be advised that vendors may have paid to be included in this list.