Essential Tools for the Wired Professional
Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.
The National Psychologist
I know, I know. You did not become a mental health professional to spend your time on a computer. But in this
day and age, certain computer skills are necessary to maintain and build your practice. Here are my recommendations.
For more detailed information about any of these topics consult my web site at www.technostress.com/TNPtopics.htm
(note: after the "/" you need to copy the capital and lower-case letters exactly as written).
An Office Management Program
Money is a difficult issue for many psychologists. I have consulted with practitioners over the years who have outstanding collections well into 5 figures. An office management program will keep you up to date on each patient's billing. There are very good programs that are easy to operate. They do not take computer skills and I have taught even the most technophobic secretaries to use them.
You need to know enough about e-mail to send, receive and forward mail as well as dealing with attachments. Do remember that you only open an attachment if it is from a source that you know and you check with that source first to make sure they sent it to you. Virus programs can spoof you into believing that an e-mail is from a friend when it is not.
Knowledge of the Internet
With more than 60% of all homes wired to the Internet, it is critical that you are web savvy. First and foremost, there are lots of web pages that contain information vital to your practice. Sample HIPAA forms, drug information and extensive libraries of reports on diagnostic categories are but a few of the gems.
It is not enough to know how to click on links. You must be able to find these gems among piles of junk. You need to know how to search the web. Hands down, the best search tool is Google. I have written about Google before, but it is important that I delve into some of its features. Searching can be overwhelming. Put in a word like bipolar and you get 924,000 hits! If you are looking for specific information about bipolar disorder, Google usually puts the most relevant links first (these are the links that other people point to more often). If you are searching for more specific information you need to refine your search. For information on drugs for bipolar disorder you add the word drug and now you get only 163,000 hits. Suppose that you are really interested in the effect of alcohol abuse on bipolar drugs. Now put "alcohol abuse" in quotes to designate that the two words must appear right next to each other. This cuts the hits down to 48,900. Keep reducing your search by adding more terms and scanning the top hits.
Did you know that you can search Google from your browser without having to go to www.google.com? Go to toolbar.google.com and following the instructions to put your personal Google toolbar on Internet Explorer or Netscape. The really cool thing is that you can also use this button to search for terms within a web site. So, if you are on my website and you want to find my article on search engines you put "search engine" in quotes and tell Google to search the site. Makes searching much easier.
You MUST have a virus protection program and a firewall on your computer! I used to only recommend a firewall if you had either a DSL line or a cable modem. But now, clever people can access your computer through your dial-up modem, too. Make sure that you have your program scan all incoming messages and you update your virus definitions at least once a week to catch those new nasty little pests.
I almost did not include this because it is so obvious. However, with all of the paperwork required by managed care, it is essential that you have a word processing program that you like and can use. Don't worry about all those bells and whistles. Use what you need and leave the rest alone. Microsoft Word is the industry standard but use the program that came with your computer and you will be fine.
A Techno-Savvy Friend
In my book TechnoStress we call this a "Personal Trainer." You need someone who can talk with you in English, not computerese; is calm and relaxed; is willing to let you press the keys instead of standing over your shoulder and rapidly performing some magical operation that you did not even see, let alone understand; and is available to you when you get in trouble.
You will make computer errors. You will crash your computer. But having a personal trainer will take the worry away from these potential catastrophes.
A Web Site
If you had asked me two years ago I would have said that you absolutely did not need a website. Now, I think that it is a fine idea. You can direct new patients to your site for directions, intake forms and HIPAA forms and information. You can publicize your special skills and activities. You can encourage clients to visit your site and see how great you are between the time that they leave a voice mail and the time that you return their call. And creating a basic website is easier now than ever before. You don't need to write any HTML programs. All you need to do is know how to work a word processor. You can save your word-processed documents as a web page. Then you get a service provider to host your website (which now costs only about $20 a month) and they will provide you with tools to transfer your pages to the web. For a bit more flexibility you can use tools like Front Page which comes with MS Office, the complete package with MS Word and other tools. And, if you need help, your personal trainer is just a phone call away.
Good luck as a wired professional! If you have questions, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright, 2003, 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, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.