SimplePractice’s Practice Management System (EHR) is a great solution for both individual therapists and group practice owners. What follows is a list of some essential concepts and important steps that will help you succeed with SimplePractice.

Essential Concepts

Getting Help

This one tends to take people by surprise: As big as SimplePractice is, phone support is just not in their business model. To be fair, they have a number of alternative methods of receiving support. They have a comprehensive knowledge base, interactive chat sessions, the ability to submit Help Desk (email) tickets, an online FaceBook Group, and even scheduling a video consultation with their support staff. I have always found their staff to be very friendly and especially helpful.

SimplePractice as a Business

For better or worse, SimplePractice tends to be very guarded about their inner workings, especially about any issues that might place their product in a bad light. This makes sense, actually. It serves as an indication that SimplePractice as a company knows how to effectively operate as a business; as such, they and their product will likely be around for a long time.

The Business Associate Agreement

The first thing you’ll want to do before you do anything else with SimplePractice is to print out a copy of SimplePractice’s Business Associate Agreement (BAA), which you agreed to once you signed up for a trial account.  Write down both the current date on the BAA and the date you started your 30-day free trial, which is the date that the document was signed by you, the user. Store both of these safely away. You will need the BAA and the additional information if ever you experience a HIPAA audit. Worst case, you’ll never need it and it will just gather dust in the corner of your locked office cabinet.

Where are my Consent Documents?

It can be confusing to locate the consent documents that you wish to have your clients sign. They are not located in the Notes and Forms section. Instead, they are located in Settings > Client Portal > Shared Documents and Files.

settings for simplepractice consent forms
The settings panel for Consent Forms in SimplePractice

Each document is available for your clients to electronically sign. SimplePractice provides some default templates that you can work from and adapt to your practice.

You’ll notice that, by default, there are three types of Consent Documents. At the end of each, in capital letters, is some wording indicating that the client is agreeing to each document along the lines of, “By clicking on the box below…” You’ll notice in my examples below that I’ve changed that to, “By signing or clicking…” as sometimes my clients need to sign a physical document, and I want my documents to clearly indicate this.

Privacy Notice

Ever notice those privacy notices in your doctor’s office, or at the pharmacy? By law, practitioners must provide each client a Notice of Privacy Practices before providing any services. Additionally, you must have each client sign a document stating that they have been offered a copy of this notice. Fortunately, HIPAA doesn’t require you to have a client sign this form more than once.

HIPAA also states that this signature must be separate from any other signed document, and essentially stand alone. For example, you can’t have a section in your Informed Consent document stating that the client acknowledges receipt of the privacy notice.

Here’s an example of what I use at the end of my Privacy Notice, which is modeled after the verbiage advocated by the National Association of Social Workers:

“BY SIGNING OR CLICKING ON THE CHECKBOX BELOW, I HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE RECEIVED AND HAVE BEEN GIVEN AN OPPORTUNITY TO READ A COPY OF THIS NOTICE OF PRIVACY PRACTICES. I UNDERSTAND THAT IF I HAVE ANY QUESTIONS REGARDING THIS NOTICE OR MY PRIVACY RIGHTS, I CAN CONTACT DAVID LECHNYR, LCSW AT 1598 PEARL STREET, SUITE 2, EUGENE, OREGON, 97401 OR AT 541-344-2256.”

Informed Consent

This document is typically specific to the practitioner’s credentialing board (e.g., LCSW, LPC, LMFT, etc.). Your licensing board will have specific state laws that clearly state and outline what must be in your Informed Consent document. It’s a good idea to have your client sign a new Informed Consent document at least once each year, or when re-starting therapy after a period of inactivity.

At the end of this document, I use the following verbiage:

“BY SIGNING OR CLICKING ON THE CHECKBOX BELOW, I AGREE TO ABIDE BY THE TERMS OF THIS DOCUMENT DURING OUR PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP.”

You can download a copy of SimplePractice’s sample Informed Consent document to use as a reference.

Practice Policies

I used to roll this into my Informed Consent document. However, there’s good reason to keep some policies separate from your Informed Consent. Anything that is potentially going before a licensing board should be in your Informed Consent. Anything that is specific to running your business and is legally enforceable should be in your policy. Examples include credit card authorizations and specific details regarding cancellation policies.

Use the following rule of thumb: Licensing Boards trump legal authorizations. So, if your licensing board doesn’t have any rules regarding prohibiting the electronic recording of sessions, it would make sense to have it in your Practice Policies. However, if you were licensed in Arizona and a specific law (say, AAC R4-6-1101(4)) happened to mention electronic recordings, you would be well advised to place that in your Informed Consent instead.

At the end of this document, I use the same verbiage that I use for the Informed Consent document:

“BY SIGNING OR CLICKING ON THE CHECKBOX BELOW, I AGREE TO ABIDE BY THE TERMS OF THIS DOCUMENT DURING OUR PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP.”

You can download a copy of SimplePractice’s sample Practice Policy document to use as a reference.

Validity of Electronically Signed Documents

It’s worth noting that, legally, this type of electronic consent form is technically ClickWrap and as such is essentially unenforceable if you don’t also verify your client’s identity. A copy of a driver’s license or government identification will do just nicely. I make a habit of asking new clients for their insurance card and their driver’s license, which I both scan and upload as a stored document in the client’s record in SimplePractice (see below). This isn’t an issue with SimplePractice; rather, it’s just the way this type of authorization works.

Technically, this type of document signing also requires access control; the good news is that the client must have already set up their login email and password and can only sign the form while logged in. So, no worries here.

Scanning Documents

Even in the age of using an Electronic Health Record, documents still need to be signed by hand or scanned for storage. I highly recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX1500 Color Duplex Document Scanner. It scans both sides of any document (including driver’s licenses and insurance cards) and transfers it automatically to your Mac or PC. You can then upload the document to your Client’s record in SimplePractice.

fujitsu scansnap
I couldn’t survive without my Fujitsu ScanSnap

Don’t do what I did initially, however: Scanning old charts with the intent to upload them to SimplePractice. Your data backup size will expand exponentially, and it will be a pain in the butt each time you want to download a backup file as it will take longer. Scan and save old files to your computer is easier. It’s worth noting that some states (Arizona’s Board of Behavioral Health, for example) don’t recognize scanned copies of signed documents for mental health professionals, so paper for now, is here to stay.

Troubleshooting Steps

Many of the issues and questions you’ll run into can be resolved by these three steps.

Clear Your Cache

Each web browser keeps a cache (copy) of the pages you’ve visited. Sometimes, this creates problems over time. If in doubt, your first step should always be to clear your cache, quit your web browser, and open it back up.

chrome clear cache
Chrome’s Clear Browsing Data option

While each web browser is different, here’s the general gist:

  • Chrome: Chrome > Clear Browsing Data > Basic > All Time (check all boxes) > Clear Data
  • Firefox: History > Clear Recent History > Everything (check all boxes) > Clear Now
  • Safari: Safari > Clear History > All History > Clear History

Don’t Use Multiple Tabs/Windows

SimplePractice communicates with its servers as you work your way around the interface. Having multiple tabs or windows open and making changes in more than one window/tab at a time can be confusing for the system and create errors or phantom entries.

Use a Supported Web Browser

Currently, both Google Chrome and Firefox are recommended by SimplePractice as the most compatible with their system. However, your mileage may vary. For example, when using my MacBook, Chrome often stalls in loading jquery.js after waking up from sleep; instead, I use Safari unless I’m doing something more than simple data entry.

Create a Test Account

You may want to see how things look to a client. By creating a fake client account with a different email address, you’ll be able to log into the Client Portal and see things from their perspective. This has been invaluable and answered many questions for me along the way.

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