Our Man in Cyberspace is Impressed with New Hardware/Software

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

November-December 1999



Attending my first computer convention recently, and wearing a badge proclaiming me a member of the media, I rediscovered the world of Mac and PC. Although attended by hundreds of vendors of Mac products, nearly all the hardware and software were designed to work on either Macs or PCs. This is good news since 75% of all computer-using psychologists own PCs.

Most booths were displayed software packages designated as "brand-new" or "coming soon." The more eclectic included a hardware/software combination that monitored brain waves, complete with a hat with sensors, hardware for data collection and software to map the brain's activity. I was duly impressed, but noting a price of more than $50,000, I wondered how many psychologists will rush right out and purchase the system. Maybe next year, when the technology gets faster and less expensive!

During three days of trudging in the exhibit hall, I wore out my feet connecting with a variety of vendors, all of whom were excited to show me how their "tool" might benefit Psychologists. Some seemed quite exciting. For others, the fit was a stretch. By Sunday, I emerged from this dizzying experience with enough material for my next six columns. Here are the topics:


Rather than decide which topic to write first, I would like you to tell me your preferences. Vote for your top choices between (1) FAX/VOICE MAIL SYSTEM, (2) WEB SITE TOOLS, (3) HANDHELD COMPUTER TOOLS, (4) COMPUTER GAMES FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN, (5) PRESENTATION TOOLS, and (6) ERGONOMIC DEVICES. The higher vote getters will be reviewed first. (See my e-mail and telephone number in italics at the end of this article.)

A Visit to the Mailbag

For the past few months I have been getting e-mail and phone calls asking for advice on technology for mental health. Here are some questions and my answers (paraphrased):

Q: I am a single practitioner looking for billing software. I don't have the time or energy to download all the demos and evaluate them. Can you tell me what you think would be best for my practice?"

A: It is becoming a crowded market. In our 1997 book, The Mental Health Technology Bible, Dr. Michelle Weil and I reviewed 24 programs, some of which have gone to the Recycle Bin in the sky. We developed five criteria to evaluate these software packages: (1) "look and feel," (2) features, (3) cost, (4) support and (5) company history. Luckily, all but one of these criteria can be ascertained with a telephone call or a trip to the web. I would begin by gathering telephone numbers and web sites for several software packages that you have heard or read about. Ask your colleagues what they use and the pros and cons of their choices. [NOTE: Below you will find a table of my favorite billing software in alphabetical order.]

PROGRAM NAME

COMPANY

WEBSITE

PHONE

Delphi Psychotherapy Billing System

PC Consulting

www.delphipbs.com

800-847-8446

Office Manager & Case Manager

Synergistic Office Solutions

www.sosoft.com

352-242-9100

ShrinkRapt

Saner Software

www.shrinkrapt.com

800-448-6899

SumTime

Rudd, Inc.

www.sumtime.com

888-821-0771

Therapist Helper

Brand Software

www.helper.com

800-343-5737

For features, cost, company history and support phone or visit the website. First, however, visit a web site or two and copy down the features that seem most valuable in their order of importance. Make a checklist so that you can evaluate the package with check marks when you contact the company.

"Look and Feel" is personal. Order or download a demo copy of 2-3 programs that have the features you want and enter 6-10 patients including insurance information. Then do a mock recording of a few sessions for each and practice billing their insurance, generating reports, etc. See how the process feels to you. Is it easy to maneuver around the screens? Check out the manual. Is it readable? Does it include pictures you can see on the screen? This is important in your learning process. Call and "test drive" the support staff. Ask questions and evaluate their responsiveness, clarity and helpfulness.

The final decision is, of course, yours. But remember, a program's cost includes support and upgrade costs. Amortize these costs over five years to determine a yearly cost for each program.

<NOTE: The following Q & A was not included in the printed article due to space limitations.>

Q: " I want to buy a free-standing fax machine. Which fax would you recommend? And what features are important?"

A: I like Brother fax machines, having had two with no problems. I would look at one that faxes at least 10 pages at once and then consider other features they offer, including delayed sending, broadcasting (sending the same fax to many people) and polling (calling another fax machine and receiving information). Try an office superstore so you can compare models. Of course, plain paper is the only choice! Another point to know -- fax machines only come with a starter cartridge that will run out quickly. Buy a backup because when it goes, it goes immediately, in the middle of a fax! Luckily most have a memory backup.


Copyright, 2000, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 61