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What Does Consultancy in Behavioral Healthcare Mean to Us?

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 The Nuts and Bolts of Consultancy in Behavioral Healthcare

Why You Need Us—and How We Can Help

The healthcare system as a whole is a complex compilation of providers, insurers, administrators, and vendors. And although the end goal is always to better the health of patients, healthcare is also a business. That business part of healthcare, just as with any venture that involves dollar signs, brings out the best in some, the worst in others. We see it as our job—our passion—to help organizations wade through the behavioral health market to match the best products with the right providers to ensure the best care. And as we’ve found, much of that work involves finding the right people.

Part of our commitment to behavioral healthcare providers and organizations is to visit the EHR vendors we recommend. As such, 2014 was all about travel. (And thus far into the new year, our long plane rides and car trips have yet to slow down). Last year our visits brought us to multiple EHR vendors, several revenue cycle management organizations, and a lot of behavioral health practices. Our first shop? The Pacific Northwest, where we were given full access to one of the leading behavioral health EHRs on the market. With every vendor we visited, we were pleased to find that not one door was closed to us and we were able to take part in everything from sales meetings and marketing initiatives to implementation practices.   

Why is this so important? Because those visits, and those details, are the nuts and bolts of what makes consultancy recommendations matter. Many don’t, but we care about what—and who—we recommend to providers. Make no mistake, there are consultants out there who will tout products they know little, if anything, about—and those people are unfortunately not hard to find. It’s also frighteningly common to find EHR companies that focus more on marketing and purchasing leads than on listening to customer feedback and continually updating their products to ensure they meet the evolving demands of providers and behavioral healthcare itself.

Sure, a shallow website and sly marketing materials can give the appearance of a well-run company and thus a well-thought-out product—and that’s why marketing costs big bucks. But we’ve always wondered: Why spend so much time creating a facade when you could spend all of that initiative on molding your product to what customers need, hiring appropriate and mature staff, and offering credible and valuable resources to your clients?

Unfortunately, the answer to that is usually dollars and cents and a company’s bottom line. But that’s their prerogative (let’s face it, that’s capitalism) and right now it’s the reality we work within—and it’s certainly not illegal.

But that’s where we come in.

This backdrop of bottom lines vs. the betterment of behavioral health is why we continue to beat the same drum. We stand in the background of providers’ EHR decisions to ensure they’re asking the right questions to get them the best product for their individual wants and needs:

• Is one of the founding members of the EHR a clinician using their own software, in their own successful mental health agency?
• Is one of the founding members of the organization a degreed software engineer?
• Is the board of an organization comprised of actual users of the EHR on a daily basis?
• Does the EHR have certified billers and coders on staff?
• Does the EHR have former insurance auditors on staff?
• Does the EHR offer CEU accreditation for clinical course work by mental health clinicians on their staff?
• Does the EHR have more than a handful of employees on staff?
• Does the staff of the EHR, including the founder, speak at national conferences on Behavioral Health technology?

The list goes on.

Most behavioral health providers probably feel they don’t have the time to ask this litany of questions to every EHR vendor on the market just to find their perfect fit. Frankly, they shouldn’t have to—that’s where we come in. For us, it isn’t hard to scratch just a bit beneath the surface of a product company to find out whether they can be trusted with the magnitude of the patient and provider problems they seek to solve.

That’s why traveling all over the United States was important for us, because we needed to know the people that work for these EHR organizations. Just how does the organization operate? Would the owners of this company and their staff have anything relevant to add at a national conference on behavioral health? Or are their initiatives about looking just credible enough to be marginally profitable but not credible enough to stand up to even light scrutiny? How do they discuss clients after hanging up the phone?  

We don’t recommend just any product, and we will and have dropped products if we find out a company’s leadership isn’t willing to have those important conversations about behavioral healthcare providers’ needs, whether or not that involves changing things up, even key aspects of corporate infrastructure. We are 100% about what is best for the providers we serve, which means we will not recommend a product from a company we don’t trust. Truly, how a product has been created is a direct reflection of the organization that created it.

Superior leadership is the key indicator as to whether or not any organization is considered a success. Luckily, all of the product companies we visited meet most, if not all, of our criteria.

Are they perfect?  No.

Is any software perfect? No.

And that’s an important point. Software is a technology and a tool, and as such, no one product can ever meet all customers’ needs (or even all of one customer’s needs) all of the time. But that’s why where a product comes from is so important—and that’s where our focus is. We look for not just great products but great people behind them. And at the core, every vendor we visited—from Washington to California and Texas to Michigan, even in New York (we visited over 12 states in total last year)—all exhibited the highest degree of what we value behind a great product: honest business practices, healthy work environments, and incredible credentials in behavioral healthcare.  

And we didn’t just visit EHR vendors. We were also welcomed in by multiple mental health organizations: John F. Kennedy University, Northern California, Connections Samaritan Center, Northern California, Care and Counseling Center of Georgia, The Discovery Center in Northern California, to name a few.  Why? Because we go deeper than the bottom line, and not only is it important to know the EHR vendors we support but also the organizations implementing the EHRs we recommend. 

I once asked a consultant that is paid a tidy sum for recommending EHR vendors what their due diligence was in terms of recommending products. Did they spend several days on site with any of the EHR vendors they support? Did they go through the entire implementation process with any of the agencies using the product and did they follow up with them 30, 60, 90, even two years later to ensure all went according to plans?  The answer was a resounding NO.

We do.   

With many of our clients, we’ve been a part of every bump, every hiccup, through smooth sailing and stormy seas, from the initial sales call to the onboarding and daily use of an EHR. Indeed, this very article is being typed up while on location (on our lunch break, we might add) at a large public behavioral health center in the midst of a huge organizational change from an outdated Behavioral Health EHR to another EHR (as well as a complete overhaul of their revenue cycle management processes). If an agency is not happy with an EHR we have recommended we take that seriously.

To put it bluntly, EHRs are like Psychiatric medication.  An EHR that works well in one practice may not be a good fit for another.

We are consultants for behavioral health EHR vendors, academic institutions, and behavioral health agencies and providers. We are in the trenches with small and large EHR organizations that have terrific and innovative products. We help align them with experts in the field and guide them on best practices from their sales process and their marketing initiatives to their contract negotiations and their corporate vision—and, of course, implementations. We also help them obtain funding from angel investment firms to venture capital firms so they can further develop their product.  We are called upon by behavioral health agencies to help implement change management in terms of their technology, workflow, revenue cycle management, and agency growth. We serve academic institutions that want to dive into EHR adoption as part of their curriculum.

We have an extremely unique place in this industry, viewing behavioral health organizations in multiple ways. What we learn from those that are extremely successful helps us manage smaller entities. The vendors we work with welcome healthy competition. They acknowledge their shortcomings and work effortlessly to correct them. We can say across the board that not one of our clients—be that an agency or an EHR vendor—foolishly believes they have nothing to learn. Humility with great credentials: Now that’s a winning combination for any organization. It is a regular part of our work day to partake in several meetings with EHR vendors on how best to implement their product for a particular agency but also with agencies on how best to coordinate implementation efforts amongst their clinicians and administrative staff. 

Just as we vet the EHR organizations we recommend, we also welcome vetting consultants in this industry—please, vet us! Whatever consultancy you consider, ask for references (and lots of them) to ensure you know who you’re hiring. Make sure you are working with people that have a breadth of experience and the references to back them up from multiple EHR vendors, academic institutions, behavioral health providers, and mental health agencies. The expense and time it takes to dive in from beginning to end with an organization (be that a vendor or provider) says a lot.  

Our team has helped deserving EHR vendors obtain funding to expand their products and services. We’ve helped revenue cycle management organizations restructure in order to better serve the behavioral health providers they support. We’ve helped agencies attest for meaningful use. We’ve helped practices large and small go through multiple audits. We’ve helped implement behavioral health EHRs across the United States. We’ve helped multiple academic institutions adopt stellar technology for their student population.

In short, where others focus on what’s to be made, we help—and we sincerely hope the behavioral healthcare system is better for it. (We know it is.) This is the work we are proud to offer the behavioral healthcare industry. This is the sector of healthcare we spend countless hours with (and volunteer our time in as well), and it’s also where we obtained our education and expertise.

Through the years we’ve learned critical lessons in this business about credibility, integrity, and alignment with other professionals in this field. We couldn’t be more excited about what 2015 has to offer—both us and you, the EHR vendors and mental health providers whom we strive endlessly to help.

Ask our experts.  Let us know how we can serve you.  

Kristin Sunanta Walker, CEO    

Contact me directly.        

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Kristin Walker - 2013 - Portrait - b&w a








Written together with our healthcare technology writer Juliann!




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