As with any small business, opening a psychiatric practice comes with plenty of obstacles. But it also creates the opportunity for better patient relationships and engagement. While there will always be unanticipated obstacles, there are still some steps you can take to mitigate as much risk as possible and set a strong foundation to properly serve your patients.
We spoke with Dr. Wynne Lundblad of Sweetwater Behavioral Health and Wellness about the process of starting and developing a clinic. The Pittsburgh-based practice was founded in 2018, with a focus on providing comprehensive eating disorder services. Regardless of your psychiatric specialty, however, Dr. Lundblad has outlined some tips that will set you on the right path when opening your clinic.
Learn Your Local Health Insurance Market
Many providers who work at larger clinics or community health centers are not often interacting directly with insurance related issues. Even more experienced psychiatrists can wind their way through their careers without much exposure to payers if they never venture into private practice. Dr. Lundblad noted that this was one of their initial hurdles when starting their practice.
“You really need to get to know the local payers, not only their rates, but how best to work with them,” Dr. Lundblad said. “Who do you want to be in network with?” This was a particularly important question for her practice as she learned more about the local health insurance market.
“In Pittsburgh, there has been a sharp divide between our two local insurance companies, so a lot of larger employers have migrated to a national insurance company. Knowing that there was that market for people who had this particular insurance motivated us to get in network with that payer.”
It is natural for providers to be caught up in the details of how they operate their practice and the kind of care they want to provide, but you can set yourself up for success by taking some time to look outward into your community.
Network with Other Healthcare Providers
Dr. Lundblad has found that demand for psychiatric care is exceedingly high as a result of provider shortage and pandemic-induced stress. Getting patients in the door may not be particularly difficult, but one way to ensure you are maintaining a consistent flow is by networking with local healthcare providers to gain referrals. Many psychiatrists will find that referrals are the lifeblood of a strong psychiatry clinic.
“A lot of primary care doctors may initiate treatment for conditions like depression, and if a patient isn’t responding to early attempts at treatment, the provider needs to have a psychiatrist that they can refer to for more complex cases,” she says.
“Similarly, therapy groups that don’t have a prescriber are always looking for someone to provide medication management and evaluation for those patients. Therefore, getting to know your local therapists and groups to learn who you mesh with is essential because these people are your colleagues.”
Not only will developing a strong network within your local community provide your medical practice access to more patients, it will also help you create better collaborative relationships that lead to higher quality care for patients suffering from mental illness.
Establish Your Niche
Psychiatrists, like any physician, will have a particular area of expertise within their field. Finding your niche will make it easier to identify which kinds of patients to treat at your practice. Sweetwater Behavioral Health and Wellness largely treats patients suffering from eating disorders, but they even took their niche a step further by providing the most comprehensive care for eating disorders in their market.
“With us, you get a therapist, dietician, psychiatrist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner working as a team. Oftentimes eating disorder care is pretty siloed, so there’s the dietician in one practice, a therapist in another practice and a psychiatrist who prescribes medications in another practice. The providers who work at Sweetwater are providing evidence-based care for eating disorders, and they do it all under one roof,” said Dr. Lundblad.
Not only did Sweetwater offer treatment for a specific kind of issue, they took their care one step further by addressing a pain point for many patients suffering from eating disorders. Coordinating care across multiple providers at multiple medical practices is an added layer of difficulty to that line of treatment. Once you have identified your niche, look for opportunities like that to provide unique and exceptional care for your patients.
Be Flexible with the Care You Provide
It is worth noting that just because you have a particular area of interest as a practice does not mean that you should shirk other treatment opportunities if you have the bandwidth.
“If you are a psychiatrist providing medication management services, it is unlikely that you are only going to work in your area of interest. We do have that specialization, but we also provide more general services. I think that would be a reasonable expectation of anybody going into the field,” Dr. Lundblad explained.
Psychiatrists should also be flexible with how they meet with patients. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, practices of all specialties have turned to telehealth to treat patients. Psychiatry in particular has been a natural fit with telehealth. Even if your practice has returned to in-person psychiatric treatment, telemedicine can remain a useful part of your repertoire.
Opening a psychiatry practice is a massive undertaking, but you can help your practice start strong by following these tips from Dr. Lundblad. Consider how to establish yourself in the local healthcare community and how to make your practice stand out. Taking those steps in tandem with providing high quality mental healthcare can set you up for great success.