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How Systems and Mentoring Helped Laura Forlani Grow from Solo Practitioner to a Successful Practice With 10 Psychologists

“Power Diary has just made everything easier, do yourself a favour and get it.”

Laura Forlani,
Your Mind Matters

Laura’s passion for her profession is evident in the way she is more comfortable wearing the therapist hat than her business one. But it’s been her willingness to hone her business skills and proactively seek help from others along the way that has helped her practice to grow and flourish. The path has not always been a smooth one. Through many mistakes and long hours, she’s continued to put in the hard work to get to a place where her practice is running smoothly, and the future looks bright.

Laura was initially attracted to psychology as a profession during high school. She watched as her best friend lost her life to an eating disorder and, within one year, the small community she lived in lost 20 people that she knew well. Those repeated losses led her to seek help from the school counsellor, and from there a psychologist. She felt so helpless and powerless, and through seeing a psychologist herself, she thought, “This is what I can do, this is how I can help.”

In 2012 with her masters in clinical psychology, she started working for On Psych, going into schools to see children with a mental health care plan. At the same time, she hired a room to see private clients, and gradually reduced her school sessions as she built up her private practice. As she became known in the community, she began to connect with more local GPs, and her practice grew organically.

Back then, Laura was using Outlook and Excel to track everything but as she became busier, she realised she needed more psychologists on board, admin staff to support the team, and a solution that would merge everything together. As Laura put it, “I knew my spreadsheets, and I knew my clients, but I needed something in place so that everyone would be on the same page, admins would be able to communicate with clients, and I’d have a centralised system for storing everything from client information to notes.”

An inefficient system is fine if it’s just you, but when you have a team, you really need more formal structures in place.

Having made the decision to take her systems online (at around 4 am one morning!), Laura started trialling different practice management software solutions, including Power Diary. “I just really liked the software and found it to be both intuitive, and affordable. It was also reassuring that the software was created by a psychologist who had his own practice. It gave me confidence that it would be geared towards what a psychology practice needs.” That was all around 5 years ago, and she hasn’t looked back.

After moving to Power Diary, Laura noticed some important benefits. The first was the attendance rate at the practice. SMS reminders mean that they have very few no-shows, and the time-saving has been significant. When Laura was working as a solo practitioner, she would dread calling clients as each call would take around 10 minutes, so calling a caseload of 20 to 30 clients would mean hours on the phone. The system also offers tracking that Laura finds handy, “you can see exactly who has been sent a reminder, whether it’s been received and track replies. And, because it’s done through Power Diary, it doesn’t need to be on your personal mobile.” Communications also extend to email, where she says that “it’s handy to be able to create a template and do a bulk send, all done through Power Diary and tracked. The fact that there is evidence of what has been done and communicated is great. We’ve used this feature a lot recently with the transition to Telehealth, new regulations and social distancing.”

The second was the centralisation and secure storage of client information. Each client has a single profile, and everything gets stored in one place. From contact and referral information to session notes, “it’s all there, I could see clients from the other side of the world, and it won’t cost me anything extra.

The software offers complete peace of mind, all the data is safe and encrypted so, in a worst-case scenario, everything is saved and backed-up.”

The third most important benefit was access to actionable data. Laura tracks why clients are being referred to the practice, which GPs are referring clients, client attendance, cancellations, accounts outstanding and more. She can take a snapshot at any point in time and see how many clients have visited in the last month, how many appointments have been booked, how many new referrals have been seen, and client retention rates for each practitioner. She uses this information to implement policy changes, “I make changes in the practice based on information at my fingertips because you don’t know what’s going on without data.”

Laura gives a good example of how this has worked for them with COVID-19, “When the pandemic began, we switched to Telehealth but cancellations went up 50%, and we saw that immediately. Our admin team was tracking why they were cancelling, and we found we needed to communicate better about how to use Telehealth. That allowed us to get proactive and look for ways to streamline things. We were able to show clients how easy Telehealth could be – no downloads, just click on a link and get started. Once they saw how easy it was, our cancellation rate started to track back down again”.

The Your Mind Matters team further refined the process using Power Diary’s online intake process for sending forms that are completed by the client online (even on their phone). No scanning, printing, compiling forms or time-consuming data input. This has halved intake time for the admin team and has made it much easier for clients to complete intake paperwork and set them up for Telehealth consultations. It’s been so simple for clients and they have had a lot of positive feedback. So much so, that within two months of using the new online forms and Power Diary telehealth platforms, the practice was able to remedy their cancellation rates (in fact, Your Mind Matters are trying to recruit more Psychologists because they are so busy!).

Your Mind Matters continues to grow but, when asked about the business side of running a practice, Laura says; “I never wanted to be a boss. I ran my practice with my heart, not my head.” This is why she decided to engage with a business mentor – something she highly recommends other practice owners do too.

“I made a lot of mistakes and learnt the hard way that you have to have policies and frameworks in place. In my head, I knew what needed to happen, but it needed to be streamlined and rolled out.” The shift in thinking, which was facilitated through the mentoring, allowed her to make creative and operational improvements in the practice, with morning and evening shifts, and different psychologists using the same rooms. She has put important boundaries in place too. For her it’s important that her team is able to rest on a weekend, so the practice has evening sessions available for clients who need appointments outside of working hours. She says, “it’s ideal for clients too, their weekends are important and should be spent with their families.”

We also spoke to Laura about the impact of COVID-19 on the community. As a psychologist, she’s clearly concerned and cites an increase in depression and anxiety, anger management and eating disorders. She also told us that, interestingly, a lot more people are doing online research, finding Your Mind Matters online, rather than being referred by a GP. As Laura puts it, “one of the positive aspects is that for more and more people, discussions about mental health are normalising. During COVID especially, there has been a lot of talk around mental health and more people are putting their hands up to ask for help.”

Her advice for dealing with lockdown is to, “Reach out to your social networks and especially to a professional that can help. We know it’s hard, we [mental health professionals] are not immune to how hard it is, we have had our moments of struggle, and we are in it with our clients. Rates of depression, anxiety and suicide are sky-rocketing because socialising is so fundamental to all of our wellbeing. But there are tools and resources that can really help and people like us that are ready to share them.”

Laura’s compassion for both her clients and her team is evident and most likely has a lot to do with the clinic’s growth – they now have 10 psychologists and a couple of admin staff. But she doesn’t necessarily think that all practitioners should rush into opening their own private practice.

In fact, Laura’s advice for recent graduates is to “work for someone else first.” The reason? As she says during our discussion; “you just don’t know, what you don’t know”. This is why she believes that if you can learn from someone more experienced and avoid costly mistakes, that’s the best approach.

Like Laura says, “nobody tells you what’s required for Medicare and regulatory compliance, or how much time admin, planning, due diligence, report-writing and follow-ups take.” That’s why she recommends that you “don’t do it on your own – leverage off someone else. You don’t need to build a referral base from scratch and put all the necessary frameworks in place yourself. And there’s no risk; maybe you’ll find that you don’t want to be in private practice, people want different things and, for some, the responsibility is too much.”

And when you are ready to move into private practice? “Get a business mentor – someone that you can talk to about how to run the business side of things. This is really essential because if you don’t have structures, policies and frameworks in place, it will collapse.”

“The combination of a good system, like Power Diary, and a good coach, are what has helped our clinic grow on solid foundations.”

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