Words of advice for establishing a Web presence

Q: I am an ACA member and obtained my New York mental health counselor license in October 2005. I am seeking some resource information for creating my own website, as I plan to have a private practice. Therefore, can you suggest some web design services?

A: First, let us congratulate you and New York on licensure and your decision to go into private practice. Websites are almost standard for anyone going into business for themselves, and private practice is no different. Just like business cards, letterhead and brochures, websites are a marketing tool and an information source that adds value to your practice.

In our workshops, we have always discussed websites as a value added service. Recently, a workshop participant reminded us that generations X and Y “Google” everything, which reinforced the marketing piece. This generational reminder was enlightening. So now, we strongly encourage all private practitioners to have a Web presence. The good news is that this technology is easily obtained and very affordable.

In terms of websites, you have a lot of options. One very inexpensive route is to go through your Internet provider (Optonline, Verizon, etc.) or large companies such AOL, Yahoo, 1and1.com or Godaddy.com. Most offer a do-it-yourself option for putting up a website.

If you only need a one-page website, then consider using an online referral service such as Psychology Today

(Psychologytoday.com) or Provisions Consulting through the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA.org). You simply upload your practice information to a template and off you go. For a nominal monthly fee, they will host your one-page site and include it in their “Find a Therapist” consumer referral. However, potential clients surfing the web will not be able to find your one-page site on Google or Yahoo.

Another avenue is to hire a private design and hosting firm. These professionals will help you create a customized website from scratch. The biggest advantage of hiring a professional is that they do all the work for you so you can focus your efforts on what you do best — treating clients. Moreover, tech support usually doesn’t cost extra, and you have access to a live person.

Our research found that you can get a customized 10-page website, from start to finish, from a professional firm for less than $600. The total fee should include domain registration and hosting for the first year, design, e-mail accounts and search engine submission. After the first year, there is an annual hosting fee of $125-$150. The best way to find these professionals is to ask for a referral from a colleague who already has a website that you like.

While we can’t endorse any one provider, we have used two different website firms. Our e-commerce site, Counseling-PrivatePractice.com, was done by Digitaleagles.com. With an e-commerce website (which has the ability to accept credit card payment online) there is an additional cost of $25 per month for hosting. We sell our book, The Complete Guide to Private Practice, through this site. My private practice website, DasenbrookandJohnson.com, was done by TherapyMatch.

com. Joshua Rosenthal is the president of Therapy Match Inc. and is also a clinician. Both firms were easy to work with and extremely helpful. Check them out.

In addition, check out Private Practice Pointers on ACA’s website in June for a more detailed bulletin on websites for counselors. And remember, websites are like most other things: You get what you pay for.

Q: Could you write something about the new CPT® (current procedural terminology) testing codes that specify (the services of) a psychologist? Is it accurate that professional counselors would come under that code even though it only says “psychologist”?

A: The American Psychological Association has published the following bulletin:

“As of Jan. 1, 2006, the CPT® codes for psychological and neuropsychological testing have been revised. New code numbers have replaced the old CPT code numbers 96100, 96117 and 96115 for psychological testing, neuropsychological testing and the neurobehavioral status exam. The code for psychological testing, interpretation and reporting, formerly known as 96100, is now:

  • 96101, for psychological testing, interpretation and reporting per hour by a psychologist.

All of the other new testing code numbers are published in CPT 2006©, which is available from the American Medical Association at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/3113.html and (800) 621-8335.”

My initial read of the change is that it covers anyone licensed to do testing. This varies from state to state. CPT codes are for insurance reimbursement, and counselors are reimbursable for testing in many states. After calling provider relations for Magellan/Aetna, I was given information that these codes are for master’s level providers as well as Ph.D.s. We will continue to stay on top of this issue.

Q: I would appreciate your advice concerning the client confidentiality section of the “Informed Consent” form in your book. Do “supervisor/supervisee” relationship and also “court order” need to be specifically addressed and spelled out, or are these exceptions to client confidentiality covered respectively under “consultants” and “state and federal law” exceptions?

A: If your informed consent and HIPAA disclosure form lists consultants and stipulates that you follow state and federal law, you should be OK. Keep in mind that we are not attorneys. However, by including the above you are making an effort to comply with the sprit of the law, which is what HIPAA rules require.

Q: You have a section highlighting how to buy or sell a private practice but not steps to close your practice. Do you have that information?

A: We have a bulletin on buying and selling a private practice on ACA’s website, but ACA Professional Projects Coordinator Martha McIntosh was gracious enough to supply specific steps for closing a practice:

  • Designate a date you would like to close your practice.
  • Notify your state licensure board of your reason(s) and circumstances for closing your practice in case there are state-mandated steps for closing a practice.
  • Inquire about how long to keep your records. Seven years is the recommended time frame by the ACA Insurance Trust. Make sure your records are shredded, not simply thrown out.
  • Notify your insurance companies that you are closing your practice.
  • Notify present and past clients in writing of your closing. Do not take on additional clients in the meantime, thus ensuring that you will not have any more clients to treat at the desired date you wish to close.
  • Clinical issues with your clients may determine the time frame for closing your practice. In other words, putting proper closure on relationships, holding transitional sessions and providing referrals may determine the length of time you need to close your practice.
  • Inform clients how they can access their records in the future.
  • Buy tail insurance if you are ending liability insurance in case of a lawsuit after your practice is closed.
  • Offer clients who need continued treatment two or three good sources to contact. Also provide release forms that will enable records to be forwarded if the client wishes.

Robert J. Walsh and Norman C. Dasenbrook are the co-authors of The Complete Guide to Private Practice for Mental Health Professionals (www.counseling-privatepractice.com). ACA members can e-mail their questions to walshgasp@aol.com.