Q: I have a very limited practice of about five clients per week. I use paper claims for insurance and managed care billing and do not use a computer for any client-related business. Why should I have to be compliant with HIPAA?

A: Right now, you don’t have to be HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant. However, we feel that is a mistake. The trend in billing insurance and managed care is electronic. Most insurance and managed care companies are encouraging electronic billing but still accept paper CMS 1500. While conversion to only electronic billing won’t begin tomorrow, it is an eventuality. Insurance and managed care companies have stopped accepting handwritten CMS 1500 forms and will do the same with paper claims at some point.

Moreover, not being HIPAA compliant sends a message to your clients. Why would the clients’ other health care providers be compliant and not you? HIPAA compliance is not that difficult. All professional organizations offer some assistance.

Prepare for tomorrow today. For more HIPAA information, go to the American Counseling Association website at www.counseling.org and click on “Counselors.” From that page, click on “Private Practice Pointers” (a section reserved for ACA members).

Q: I am trying different marketing ideas (e.g., mailings, website, physicians, free workshops) to expand my practice. What else should I consider?

A: Networking would be an excellent addition to your marketing plan. Successful counselors in private practice are very connected and involved with others in business, other helping professionals, clubs, organizations and societies.

You can accomplish this by joining local, state and national organizations. For example, consider joining the local chamber of commerce, the Kiwanis, Toastmasters/Toastmistresses or a similar group. Start or join a practice group of mental health providers. Volunteer to work on a political campaign, a cause close to your heart or on the board of directors of a United Way agency. Join your state professional organization and its appropriate division or professional society and get involved.

On the national level, renew your membership with the American Counseling Association and join other national professional organizations related to your private practice. You might consider contributing to political action committees such as the Professional Counseling Fund (counselingfund.org). Try to meet and support local politicians who are favorable to your client population or causes for which you are passionate. While the cost of memberships and donations may seem expensive, think of them as a marketing expense that very well may lead you to new business.

This is how we started. In 1997, we became acquainted through our involvement in the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association and ACA. Getting involved can pay off in many ways.

Robert J. Walsh and Norman C. Dasenbrook are coauthors of The Complete Guide to Private Practice for Licensed Mental Health Professionals (www.counseling-privatepractice.

com). ACA members can e-mail their questions to walshgasp@aol.com and access a series of “Private Practice Pointers” on the ACA website at www.counseling.org.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org