Big hairy audacious goal for mental health via Virtual Briefcase

Late last year, Melbourne-headquartered psychology practice network Life Resolutions decided to take its new cloud-based practice management platform, Virtual Briefcase, on the road to introduce it to the wider psychology community.

In addition to offering the platform to its own practices and franchises, Life Resolutions decided to open it up to independent practitioners who wanted to have simple, easy access to a patient management system, marketing and administrative support, and online financial solutions from within a single dashboard.

Within a month or two, 200 independent practitioners had come on board, Life Resolutions chief operating officer Steven Whittington says. The practices retain their individual branding, but are able to access the client relationship team to manage new client appointments, a full practice management system from coreplus, as well as a social network of hundreds of psychologists, all through the single platform.

According to Mr Whittington, Virtual Briefcase itself is offered for free, with practitioners having the option to pre-purchase marketing and admin time from the Virtual Briefcase and to subscribe to coreplus. It is all part of the company's “big hairy audacious goal”, set in 2011, to help a million Australians with mental health issues.

“It has taken us a long time to get here but the only way is to share the Virtual Briefcase within the wider psychology community,” he said.

Life Resolutions is unusual in the private healthcare market in that it not only owns its own practices but runs a franchise model as well. First established 13 years ago by psychologist Mary Magalotti, the company began to investigate a franchise model in 2004, when Ms Magalotti and her business partner, Jodie Brenton, attended the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year award and was inspired by the story of that year's winner, Boost Juice co-founder Janine Allis.

Mr Whittington said that when the idea of franchising psychology practices was raised Ms Magalotti was horrified, as it was unheard of at the time. “It went into a period of assessment with a business agency in Melbourne and it was decided that franchising really was the way to go,” he said.

“It was just replicating support systems. We don't franchise the psychology or what's happening in the rooms, we do not control or dictate how psychologists treat their clients, they have a code of conduct for that; we just provide the back of office support services.”

Life Resolutions now has four company-owned and operated practices in Melbourne, and 24 franchised practices in Western Australia, Victoria, NSW and Queensland. The key benefit for the franchises is two-fold, he said.

“One is the marketing: we are very proficient in the digital arena around website optimisation and generating self-referring clients. The other thing that we did was build a centralised client relationship team. They act as a virtual reception or administration team for the practices, available 12 hours a days six days a week.”

The franchisees have full access to Life Resolutions' centralised client relationship team, which takes phone enquiries from patients and referrers, books appointments and provides marketing and business support. “None of the Life Resolutions practices have a need for administration staff at their practices,” Mr Whittington said.

Centralised platform with third-party apps

Initially, the company used a DOS practice management program but as the business grew and the franchise model started to take off, the system was stretched to the limits. In 2010, the company started to look around for an alternative.

“We looked on the market and couldn't find anything that we could pull off the shelf so that's where we got the idea of building a platform called the Virtual Briefcase. Essentially, what the Virtual Briefcase does for us is provides one single platform for every aspect of our business, for every channel within our business to operate on.

“Initially we were looking to build something comprehensive and then it became clear to us that it was much better to build a centralised platform with specific third-party software applications that we could dock up against the Virtual Briefcase.”

Life Resolutions settled on the Salesforce cloud-based customer relationship management system as the centralised hub but has intensively customised it for its own needs. “In terms of all of our internal systems from accounting to marketing, the client relationship team, all of our recruitment of psychologists, management and registrations, contact information, and internal suppliers are now all inside Salesforce.

“We then used the the Salesforce customer portal via force.com as a secure hub for users to log into. Third-party solutions are then added to it. The clinical side, or the practice management software within the Virtual Briefcase platform, is provided by coreplus, which specialises in allied health practice management."

coreplus organises each practice's appointment management, clinical case notes, Medicare Online claiming and financials, patient and referring GP demographics, and health fund or insurance details.

Appointments can be colour-coded and synchronised directly with mobile devices, and there is SMS and email appointment reminder functionality.

coreplus is also eHealth compliant, so when secure messaging becomes more common between allied health and primary and acute care – and when the PCEHR becomes available for allied health practitioners – the system is ready to go.

“When you start talking about a proper practice management solution which has integrated invoicing, is eHealth compliant, client security so their details are safe, that integrates with Medicare Online for claiming, all of those features are available in coreplus,” Mr Whittington said.

“One of the reasons we partnered with coreplus is that they are really on the ball with that. This is a unique area: you really need to understand health and it's not the sort of product you want to built in-house.”

Psychological social networking

Mr Whittington said each of the individual Virtual Briefcase users have their version of coreplus, which operates as a stand-alone, but all relevant transactions are synced in real time back to the Virtual Briefcase platform. “That enables us to use tools out of Salesforce like the enterprise social network Chatter, so we have hundreds of psychologists joining together on this online social forum,” he said.

“They can share resources and information in a private network that is hosted through the Salesforce spine. We have taken the customer portal and made it private and use it to push out our knowledge base. People log into and we give them access to the portal, and then they can have access to the third party applications.

“There is a very simple desktop which just has six icons on it. It is very, very simple, but they get social support, business support, marketing support, psychology support, all through the Virtual Briefcase delivered remotely.”

Once Life Resolutions built the Virtual Briefcase and it was in use by the company and its franchisees, it became obvious that it was unlimited in the uses that could be added to it, he said.

“The key for us from a client relationship perspective, where we previously had to decide which diary to look at, now it is completely turned around. Each practitioner puts in their own profile and specialisations, and they pre-purchase marketing and administration time from us.

“When a client calls, we match to 14 criteria, everything from location to the time, the reason they are coming, whether they are male or female, in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, whether it is bulk billed through Medicare or private insurance. The client relationship team member just pushes 'search' and in a few seconds it interrogates hundreds of diaries, thousands of available appointments and comes back with a list of the most appropriate appointments.

“We are then able to complete that booking there and then on the phone. As soon as that happens, the client gets notified of the appointment, the psychologists get notified of the appointment, and all of the client's information is already logged in the diary ready for the practitioner. All the practitioner has to do is to give the client a call prior to the appointment to introduce themselves and verify anything they need to from a client's perspective.”

Using the technology of the Virtual Briefcase, Life Resolutions is also able to provide up to date data back to the practitioner about attendance rates, retention of clients, the productivity of the rooms they use and their session rates, he said. Life Resolutions estimates it has a 20 per cent higher than average attendance rate for the first session as the clients are matched to the psychologist more thoroughly.

“It really does make a difference,” he said. “We can add value back to them, and through the Salesforce knowledge base that we put out through the portal, they have access to thousands of documents on everything from how to recruit a psychologist to legal contracts, through marketing templates, referrals shared in real time, and then they can jump on Chatter and talk to the customer relationship team and it is all done digitally.”

eHealth ready

For referrals from GPs for Medicare-funded programs such as ATAPS, the GP can call Life Resolutions while the patient is there and make a booking, or the patient can make the booking themselves. Life Resolutions can also refer the patient to a GP to create a mental health care plan, which enables the patient to access government financial assistance.

“With the PCEHR, the GP will be able to look at the health directory and then send it straight off to the psychologist then. We look forward to that day when that happens for all of us, but within our business we are not reliant on GP referrals.”

At the end of last year, the company did a national roadshow to talk to private practitioners who are not franchisees, and introduced the Virtual Briefcase to the wider psychology community. “Following that we signed up over 200 psychologists within a matter of two or three months,” he said.

The company is also looking at the wider allied health market, as there is no reason the Virtual Briefcase can't be used for other disciplines besides psychology.

“We've had discussions with other health sectors and coreplus itself is not limited to psychologists, so we are certainly not averse to moving the Virtual Briefcase and making it available to other players.

“We are also looking at cloud-based accounting modules, talking to [online accounting company] Xero in terms of the collaboration between coreplus, ourselves and Xero, but also providing other services to the health sector like administrative and marketing services. They are the experts in the health stream and we are the experts in supporting them due to the franchising background.”

Posted in Allied Health

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