Here at thera-LINK, we get lots of questions about doing online therapy/counseling. Sometimes those questions come from private practitioners that just simply want to add an online component to their existing practice, and sometimes they are from people that are just launching their private practice. If you fall into the latter category, we have a few pointers we'd like to share with you. The old adage of "if you build it, they will come" isn't entirely true. You do need to have some skin in the game and do your part to really market and build your online practice in order to have that successful thriving practice you've dreamt about.
Here are 8 things we suggest to getting started online:
1. Research your state licensure laws. Every state and licensure has a different law about online counseling. While most allow you to do online counseling in your state, some do allow cross-state access as well. Contact your state board to discuss this further. You worked hard for your license and you want to comply with the laws. Also, keep your pulse on this area as it's constantly expanding and updating. As technology becomes the norm, every state board is having to address and incoporate it into their rules.
2. Determine if your state and licensure requires you to be certified or trained in online counseling first. For instance, here in Texas, MFT's are required now to do 15 hours of training on technology assisted services prior to doing anything related to technology with clients (effective 1/1/18).
3. Find the right telehealth solution. Of course, we highly recommend thera-LINK, but ultimately, you need to find the platform that fits your business needs. Make sure the partner is HIPAA compliant. This means you receive a BAA from the provider. No matter how badly you want them to be, Skype and FaceTime are not HIPAA compliant. We believe that you should be searching for a platform that is much more than just video - think easy scheduling for your clients, payment for your services, and even sharing files securely - an inclusive online platform for your practice. We wrote some content recently based on questions from TBHI (TeleBehavioral Health Institute) that we think you'll find valuable when seeking a telehealth partner.
4. Insurance reimbursement? You'll need to determine if you want to be on insurance panels or do private pay only. If you choose to be paneled, does the insurance company reimburse for telehealth services? Most do today, but you'll need to double check that they'll reimburse at the same rate as in-office visits. Again, most will but it's always good to cross your t's and dot your i's. This article is also helpful as it relates to insurance reimbursements for telementalhealth services.
5. Get a website. We can't stress this enough. The cost of a website is worth it! Your website is how clients will find you - think of it as your online "address". Not only that; but, your website is your opportunity to "sell" your services. It might sound weird to think about it like that but you have to market yourself in order to attract your ideal client. There are hundreds of blog postings out there about how to attract that specific ideal client you want. Study those articles and then work to build your website as such. You need to tell potential clients what you do, how you do it, your therapeutic training and background, who you are and what you believe in. They need to connect with you and want to work with you. We have also found that having the ability for your clients or potential clients to schedule with you right from your website will increase their willingness to schedule that first appointment. thera-LINK offers Client Scheduler to go right on your site. Our partners, Brighter Vision, can guide you through building a website and they'll maintain it for you as well.
6. Advertise. Yes, you'll need to advertise your practice in the early days. Budget for this as you'll need to look at social media advertising like Facebook ads, Twitter ads, and even Google Adwords. You don't have to spend a ton of money, but you'll definitely want to build out some ads that match your website to help you find your ideal client. Using any of the services above, you can set a daily or monthly budget and it will never exceed that. Think about scoping your ads to your state or even some rural or urban areas that you want to target and go for it. We'd recommend Canva if you need to build some ads for free! Once you get a small core base of clients, you can dial your ads down or even shut them off once your online practice is thriving.
7. Get listed in an online directory. There are many reputable directory services out on the web. They advertise their directory full of counselors and therapists to draw clients there as part of the service offering you pay for. It's up to you to stand out from the crowd but if a site is attracting 10,000 visitors a month, your chances are pretty good to obtain at least one client. Psychology Today is the most well-known directory listing but there are many others out there that may fit your budget or requirements better. thera-LINK offers an exclusive directory for customers that allows you to be found and contacted. There's really no such thing as too much presence online as it can only add to your chances of getting more clients.
8. Be patient. Yes, this is hard when you are gung-ho and ready to start creating that online practice of your dreams, but it's vital. Building a website will and should take time as you really cultivate and develop your online practice brand. Advertising will take additional time as you first need to put on your creative hat and build some attractive ads. Researching and exploring the laws and insurance panels may sound like a lot of work but you need to invest that time up front to build your business. Learning a new platform for telehealth won't take long if you find the right partner that offers training and guidance all along the way but you do need to take the time to learn so that you can feel confident and comfortable navigating. Just remember the saying: "Be patient. Good things take time." Stay the course and continue doing your part to put yourself out there.
If you are interested in learning more about thera-LINK, we're happy to do a live one on one demo and show you how we can be your online telehealth partner.