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Is Your Practice Client-friendly?

by Corporate Relations and Business Strategy Staff

In an increasingly competitive health care marketplace, creating a “client-friendly” practice can help you stand out from the crowd. This article describes simple business practices that can give you an advantage while enhancing the relationships you have with your clients.

Appropriate Environment

Create an office environment consistent with the professional image you want to convey.

  • Office space should be appropriate for the services provided — for example, large enough for family or group therapy. If you do assessments, it is important to have space that is quiet and devoid of distractions, along with a smooth writing surface for clients. If you treat children, provide an assortment of quiet, washable toys in your waiting area.

  • Have adequate seating and comfortable chairs in the waiting area. Use colors, lighting, music and décor to create a soothing aesthetic.

  • To address safety concerns, make sure the parking area and entrance are safe and well-lighted, and that security measures in the building are appropriate for your location and clientele.

Good Accessibility

Remove barriers to your professional services by making your office easily accessible.

  • Having adequate parking available and good access to public transportation helps clients get to your office for the services they need.

  • Be sure your office is accessible to clients with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs. Become familiar with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which includes requirements for removing barriers in existing facilities as well as Standards for Accessible Design.

Scheduling that Makes Sense

Use a well-organized scheduling system, providing office hours that are convenient for your clientele and feasible for you.

  • Making yourself available to clients during early morning, evening or weekend hours can set you apart from your competitors. It may help your clients attend regularly while still fulfilling their other obligations.
  • Set a manageable and realistic schedule. Allow yourself enough time during the day to return phone calls and e-mails promptly, complete paperwork, respond to e-mail, and provide for some “down time” to replenish yourself and avoid burnout.
  • If crises arise frequently, leave room in your schedule to accommodate these demands.

Professional Staff

Good communication and listening skills are not just for psychologists. A well-trained, knowledgeable staff can greatly enhance your clients’ experience.

  • The first point of contact for a new client often will be a telephone call to your office. Train your staff to answer the phone, take messages, schedule appointments and respond to client questions and concerns professionally and courteously.

  • In more institutional settings and/or when you do not see clients regularly, it can help protect against schedule disruptions to have staff confirm appointments.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Conveying a clear message that your practice takes privacy issues seriously will put clients at ease and help lay the foundation for a trusting therapeutic relationship.

  • Certain obligations arise from legislation and statutes that apply to psychologists. For example, among the processes and procedures mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), covered practices are required to disseminate a privacy notice. The APA Practice Organization has developed a tool that includes a privacy notice and other forms required by the HIPAA Privacy Rule called HIPAA for Psychologists.

  • Take steps to prevent accidental breaches of privacy in the office. You can keep confidential conversations from being overheard by soundproofing your office, using “white noise” machines outside the door, and having music playing softly in the waiting area.

  • Avoid engaging in private conversations in common areas such as hallways or the waiting area.

  • Be sure that client records and other confidential documents are secure and not left where others might see them.

  • Personal information from appointment books, sign-in sheets and computer screens at the reception desk should not be visible to others.

Helpful Information

Making informational and educational materials available to your clients can help facilitate treatment.

  • Create a “new client packet” with basic information about your practice, a short biographical statement and copies of your promotional materials. Include information about policies such as payment, scheduling, cancellation, and after-hours and emergency contact.

  • Broaden the range of resources you offer your clients by providing a variety of educational materials. Stock your waiting area with brochures, relevant articles, magazines and consumer fact sheets.

  • Consider having a television and VCR playing a selection of health-related videos in your waiting area.

  • Also think about setting up a “lending library” of books and other materials that your clients can check out.

Client Satisfaction

In addition to clinical outcomes, it is important to assess client satisfaction. A systematic focus on this area will demonstrate your commitment to providing quality services to your clients.

  • Survey your clients regularly using objective measures. A good client satisfaction survey should address topics including overall level of satisfaction with your practice and services, their experience in interacting with staff, convenience of available appointment times and facility cleanliness.

  • Use the resulting data to identify areas in need of development and make regular improvements as indicated. Survey results are helpful for fine-tuning your office policies and procedures to make them more consistent with client preferences. Let clients know you are listening by addressing concerns they raise and by implementing realistic suggestions.

 

Date created: 2004