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Automating Your Practice, Part 3:
Selecting and Configuring Technology

by Technology Policy & Projects and Communications Staff

This is the third article in a four-part series on automating a psychology practice. The first article discussed the benefits of automating routine administrative functions in a practice. The second article explained how to identify the technology tools you need to run your practice in an efficient and cost-effective manner. This article outlines sample technology configurations for different types of practices. The final article will provide tips for buying, setting up and maintaining those technology tools.

Sample Configurations
While each practice is unique, and each will likely have special hardware or software needs, here are a few sample equipment, software and service configurations designed to get you started. Compare these configurations with the list of computer equipment and software you identified at a previous step to determine which parts of the sample setups will work best for you.

Solo Practitioner I

Hardware

  • PC, fax/copier/scanner/printer, telephone modem, backup drive

Software 

  • Basic financial management software

Services 

  • Full service billing 

  • HIPAA compliance resources

This psychologist has a traditional psychotherapy-based practice. She has determined that she needs a basic computer, a multipurpose printer, a data backup system and financial management software.

Her computer will be used to capture psychotherapy notes, schedule patients, send and receive e-mail, and it will run the financial management software she will use to manage her practice's financial activities. This practitioner wants to reduce the amount of time spent billing insurance companies and patients so that she can focus on her patients/clients. She has also decided to use a full service billing firm to process all of her reimbursements. She will use the computer fax software on her computer to securely fax her patient encounter information to the billing service firm.

Because she is storing and sending electronic personally identifiable health information (EPHI), this psychologist knows that her practice must be in compliance with the federal HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule. Accordingly, she has purchased and is using equipment that regularly backs up all of her data in case her computer is damaged or stops working. She also has purchased tools to help her document and manage the HIPAA compliance process, and develop customized, state-specific HIPAA forms for her patients, and create an appropriate business associates agreement to use with her billing firm.

Solo Practitioner II

Hardware

  • PC, fax/copier/scanner/printer, cable modem, backup drive, credit card reader.

Software 

  • Intermediate practice management software 

  • Intermediate financial management software

Services 

  • Add-on electronic claims service (PM) and credit card processing (FM) 

  • Website 

  • HIPAA compliance resources

This psychologist is working to grow his practice into a small group practice, and has decided to use his computer to run practice management (PM) and financial management (FM) software, as well as process credit card transactions. Building on the basic configuration discussed above, this psychologist has also decided to purchase a website for his practice, so that interested consumers will find information about his practice when they search for psychological services on the Internet. Of note, this psychologist has opted to do his own patient and insurance billing. However, in an effort to reduce the administrative burden associated with submitting to insurance companies, he has subscribed to a self-service online electronic claims service.

Small Group Practice I

Hardware 

  • 5 networked PCs, fax/copier/scanner/printer, cable modem, backup drive

Software 

  • Intermediate practice management software (networked) 

  • Intermediate financial management software (networked)

Services 

  • Website 

  • HIPAA compliance resources

1.0 FTE for data entry and billing

Computer specialist

This small but growing practice has decided to purchase a computer system that is connected in a network so that the billing, scheduling and other software programs can be used by the entire group to manage the clinical and financial activities of the practice. Each employee will have access to and share the computer programs for scheduling, accounting, and developing and maintaining patient records. To ensure proper installation and operation of the new system, the group has decided to retain a computer specialist (usually charged at an hourly rate). In addition to properly setting up the equipment and computer programs, this specialist will return regularly to check the system, provide routine maintenance and check for hardware and software updates.

Note that the practice has decided also to pay a full-time employee (FTE) to manage third-party and patient billing and reimbursement, scheduling, record keeping, accounting, and other general administrative tasks. It is important that any growing practice carefully consider whether the benefits of an onsite administrative employee outweigh payroll, benefits and other costs. This practice has decided that using a full-time administrative person allows the practitioners to see more patients/clients and should be advantageous for practice finances. Practices that find that an FTE will not be cost-effective may consider dividing the work up among the practice partners and using self-service electronic claims or a full service billing firm. 

Small Group Practice II

Hardware

  • 5 PCs (networked), fax/copier/scanner/printer, cable modem, backup drive (networked), credit card reader

Software 

  • Intermediate practice management software (networked) 

  • Intermediate financial management software (networked)

Services

  • Add-on electronic claims service (Practice Management) OR full-service billing service 

  • Add-on credit card processing (Financial Management) 

  • Website 

  • HIPAA compliance resources

Computer specialist

This small group practice has taken a different approach. Using the same configuration as above, this group has decided to make each individual psychologist responsible for managing his or her own scheduling, recordkeeping and billing. Each psychologist has access to the same software and services, and each is individually responsible for using these collaborative tools with his or her respective patients/clients.

While no "one size fits all", the above configurations and explanations should help you get started on selecting the right kind of computer system, software and services for your practice.

The last installment in this series will provide you with a list of things to consider when making such a big purchase, such as support, maintenance, set-up and training.

NOTE: The scenarios in this article are provided for illustrative purposes only and are not intended as recommended configurations for a particular practice. Each practitioner should determine, perhaps in consultation with a computer specialist and/or other professional adviser, the technology tools that are appropriate for his or her own practice.

 

Date created: 2006