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Starting a Behavioral Health Practice: What You Need To Consider

by | Feb 10, 2022

The growing demand for behavioral health services is opening opportunities for providers to bridge gaps in service by starting a behavioral health practice

Specifically, there is a move toward whole-person care that recognizes the need for a collaborative relationship between physical and behavioral health providers.

Integrating behavioral health and primary care also helps reduce the stigma associated with behavioral healthcare. This stigma can prevent patients and providers from taking advantage of preventive measures that reduce demand for healthcare resources in the long run, which runs counter to the goal of value-based care.

Analyzing your market

The global behavioral health market is expected to grow to $240 billion by 2026, according to Acumen Research and Consulting. While that is great news coming from a high level, you will need to test the waters locally by assessing your competition. How does your specialty fit into the geographic area where you want to establish your practice? If you are interested in providing specialized niche care, for instance, that could help you stand out among the competition.

The bulk of behavioral health visits were done virtually during the height of pandemic lockdowns, and new practices should consider offering this accommodation as well. Doing so allows providers to care for patients in remote areas, or who may have mobility issues. This convenient option also dramatically reduces no-show rates, which will improve your bottom line.

A quick web search should give you an idea of who your biggest competitors are, and where they are. Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and reputation management services will play a significant role in making sure your practice is seen often online and stands out as the best choice when potential patients seek you out.

Opening a Mental Health Clinic  

Access to mental health and addiction treatment has long existed as separate from physical healthcare. While the effort to improve outcomes by addressing physical and mental health as an interactive whole is not new, there is still plenty of opportunity for growth as behavioral health is increasingly integrated with other entities in the healthcare industry.

According to a 2017 report from the American Hospital Association, the share of hospitals’ emergency services integrated with behavioral health was 51 percent. For primary care, the number was just 38 percent. Extended care and acute patient services were only 17 percent and 46 percent, respectively. This reveals a lot of room for growth.

Collaborative Care Considerations

There are three kinds of collaborative care: coordinated care, co-located care, and integrated care. Which one you provide will shape your practice and provide varying opportunities.

Coordinated Care focuses on information sharing in a referral relationship between a behavioral health clinic and primary care practices. Co-located Care puts the behavioral health provider under the same roof as a primary care provider with some cooperation between services, but separate treatment. Integrated care puts services in one location with a unified behavioral health and primary care approach.

Coordinated Care is good since it promotes routine screening of behavioral health issues from the medical side and medical issues from the behavioral health side. Information and responsibility in providing care are shared between each practice. Referral sources for one another will secure revenue. Provider-to-provider communication allows for better patient outcomes holistically, and often reduces utilization, making room for more patients. Each practice’s basic operating structure is preserved, so change is not disruptive.

Co-located care is better because you have the benefits of coordinated care, but with enhanced communication due to close proximity to other providers. This approach provides opportunities for same-day care and a one-stop spot for patients, reducing no-show rates. There are also opportunities to share systems and resources with one another, reducing costs. Providers have more opportunities to educate one another in a co-located care situation.

Integrated Care is best, bringing the benefits of coordinated care while resolving most remaining barriers. Also, in this scenario, the co-located services are usually owned and operated by the same practice. There is usually one treatment plan combining behavioral health and medical elements. There is a streamlined process for communication among the team, which functions as one single system devoted to treating the patient as a whole.  The practice structure takes an organic approach to reaching patient goals. This approach to a behavioral health practice allows cross-training among disciplines, addressing patient needs as they occur, and the billing is maximized (one practice shares resources, improving patient health, and increasing revenue).

Choosing The Right EHR For Your Behavioral Health Practice

Once the focus, location, and market position of your mental health practice is determined, turn your planning attention to Electronic Health Record software that will help you run and collect important data about your practice.

Selecting the right EHR software for your behavioral health practice will be a crucial decision. It will not only influence how your practice operates but also how well you will be able to assess that operation, including the health outcomes of your patients. Ultimately, EHR software is the tool you will use to determine where you need to improve, and how you will be best able to do that.

Your providers, your patients, and your collective future will be affected by your choice of behavioral health EHR software, so there are a few things you should keep in mind.

First, consider your behavioral health practice’s needs, and whether the EHR software service works with those needs instead of against them. If your reimbursement depends on meeting population metrics, you will want a system that can track those details. If you are part of a group like a PO or ACO or have multiple locations, you will need software that is able to standardize.

Healthcare worker burnout is a growing problem, one you should plan to avoid by ensuring the system you adopt is user-friendly. You do not want to undo the hard work of recruiting providers by putting needless pressure on them with an unwieldy EHR system. Talk to your staff, find out how they work, what they would appreciate help with, and what they consider to be an undue burden on their responsibilities. Your choice of EHR software should support and improve your colleagues’ work, not make it more difficult.

Telehealth service will also require software, and you should put the same effort into vetting both your practice’s needs from such a system and the potential pitfalls that would unnecessarily burden your providers. For this reason, EHR software will have to integrate and work well with your telehealth software.

Marketing Your New Behavioral Health Practice

After your market research is done and you’ve established practice operations equipped with optimal software, it’s time to put together a marketing plan.

With most healthcare consumers going online to find medical services, digital marketing is an indispensable way to connect with potential behavioral health patients. Here is what your behavioral health practice marketing strategy should include:

  1. Set a solid foundation with a website optimized for the patient experience including bill pay and easy access to the telehealth system. Your website should also be built to attract patients over time with site structure that Google finds favorable.
  2. Increase the odds of being found online with SEO (search engine optimization) as mentioned above, how crawl-friendly your site is for Google bots helps your chances of being found in search. However, keyword strategy is also important. You will want to have select keywords in your web copy and in regularly published blogs to help Google associate your site as the most relevant for popular search terms.
  3. Get prime placement in patient search with Google Ads. Also known as PPC (pay-per-click) Google Ads allow you to be found in search near the top of the page. How you introduce your practice to Google users is crucial to getting those clicks that every practice is competing for online.
  4. Engage with your community on social media. Platforms like Facebook are an ideal place to nurture loyalty with existing patients and instill consumer confidence with prospective patients. Facebook ads also get you in front of a highly specific audience who is most likely to be considering behavioral health services at the present time.
  5. Ratings and reviews management builds consumer confidence in your practice. When patients in a vulnerable state seek behavioral health services, they seek a provider they can trust. Patient reviews can calm the fears of patients who have qualms about care. Many positive reviews improve your star rating, and help you compete with other practices showing up in online directories, including the highly visible Google My Business feature.

Digital marketing for behavioral health agencies helps you connect with the patients who need you.

Medical Advantage Can Help You Launch Your Behavioral Health Practice

If you are aiming to capitalize on the rising demand for behavioral health services by starting a Behavioral Health practice, Medical Advantage can help.

With more than 25 years of experience, the healthcare consulting team at Medical Advantage can assist providers with implementing interdisciplinary, whole-person care through services that benefit patients as well as their practice.

Whether your endeavor is affected by staff shortages as in the current pandemic, or by a limited budget, you may not have a dedicated marketing team.

Medical Advantage’s practice marketing strategists skilled in local SEO, on-page SEO, website building and optimization, blog writing and keyword ranking can help put your new behavioral health practice on the map where Google’s concerned. Since online reputation also influences search results, our team also offers online reputation management services to build up your star rating. The team also handles posting and/or advertising on social media.

Our team also provides EHR consulting and telehealth consulting.

Starting a behavioral health practice will be a challenge, but Medical Advantage’s healthcare consulting is ready to help you rise to it.


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