How to Grow Your Private Psychology Practice with Nirvana
August 25, 2022
By Leila Ghaznavi
Managing a practice has never been easy. But with inflation on the rise clients are facing ever increasing financial challenge making it more important than ever to help clients get the most from their insurance benefits. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with licensed psychologist, Jessica January Behr, on how she utilized Nirvana’s services to transition her private psychology practice into a thriving group practice by helping clients maximize their insurance benefits.
How did you launch your career in therapy?
I’ve never wanted to be anything other than a psychologist. I’ve always wanted to understand people so I could help other people understand themselves. I started working at a community mental health clinic in Manhattan. It was where I did my postdoc and then was hired as a staff psychologist. I loved that job and I really connected to the community. But there were some aspects that weren't sustainable long term.
I started my practice in November of 2019 while I was still working full time at the mental health clinic. By February I was working two full time jobs. I had my private practice five days a week after my regular nine to five so I decided to quit the clinic in March 2020. And then COVID happened and I was left wondering: Am I really going to do this? Let go of my reliable health insurance and my salary? This is crazy! Ultimately, I decided to go for it.
Because COVID was an incredibly stressful and difficult time, there was a large increase in the number of people seeking therapy. By July 2020, I was seeing 40 patients a week and had a 15-person waitlist. It quickly became apparent that I needed to hire help. At first, I hired one clinician but by the end of the year I had three clinicians working with me.
With your practice growing so quickly how did you handle Superbills?
Initially, I tried submitting them myself. It was so stressful. It is very difficult to get credentialed with insurance companies early on in practice, both for logistical and financial reasons. I would submit Superbills to the insurance companies and would think everything was fine. But then three months later, I'd get bounce backs and find out that none of the claims went through. I remember the panic setting in and the confusion as I struggled to fill out the forms. There are a thousand things to fill in and check off and you never know what's what. Fortunately, my clients were very, very understanding because it was something that I was offering as a courtesy.
Eventually, I gave up and stopped submitting out-of-network insurance claims for therapy. I’d have to tell clients “Here is your Superbill. I will walk you through the process of what you should do the best to the best of my ability, but everybody's insurance company is different.” However, I noticed a lot of clients were deterred and turned off from therapy because they were just as confused at the process as I was.
How did you address this challenge with Superbills?
I started working with Nirvana! It was really a godsend for both myself, administratively, and for my current and potential clients. After I signed on to Nirvana, I immediately saw the positive effect it had on my practice. As a private therapist, it's expensive for people to pay out of pocket. Nirvana became a positive point of accessibility to so many clients who were reaching out for help. It was a huge benefit to be able to say to clients that they could get back 70-80% of their session rate simply and easily through the Nirvana platform.
How has Nirvana been able to help you grow your practice?
When clients reach out to my practice, 99% of the time the first question they ask is: “Do you take my insurance?” Before, I would have to say no but you can submit to your insurance for out-of-network benefits, which takes the onus of responsibility for the Superbills and puts it on the patient. With Nirvana, I can say: “We're not in network but we can submit your claims for you. And here is a detailed description of what therapy will cost you up front and here is your deductible.”
If someone else is submitting the claims, there’s always a level of uncertainty of what reimbursement the clients are going to receive, or if they are going to receive anything at all. But because I know a client’s benefits with certainty upfront, I can discuss client’s financial needs professionally and simply. I able to tell them: “Here's what your deductible is, what your reimbursement will be. If you can't afford to work with me or my practice, I will help you find somewhere else, but here's what we can do to help.” This level of insight into clients’ insurance benefits has been essential in helping my practice to grow.
What Nirvana tools are most useful to you?
The Insurance Calculator! For a long time, I wasn't using the calculator. I was emailing the Nirvana helpdesk with every insurance card and they would respond within 24 hours. However, the Insurance Calculator allows me to get estimates for my clients’ deductible and reimbursement rate instantly. The other tool would be Nirvana’s automatic submission of Superbills. Those are the two tools I use the most.
Does Nirvana work with the other therapists in your practice?
Nirvana helps us match the right clients with the right therapists to provide a positive experience for everyone involved. All of us are enrolled with Nirvana, but my Operations Coordinator, Melissa, and I are the point people. None of the other clinicians have to deal with anything billing related, which is a key benefit I’m able to offer them as part of my practice. What’s more, when clients call us looking for a specific therapist, or if they aren’t sure who they want to work with, Melissa and I can check their benefits and discuss which therapist is the best fit for them depending on their therapy needs and their insurance. Then we offer a consultation with a specific therapist in our practice.
Where would you like to see your practice go in the future?
I would like to continue to grow my practice. We're doing well but it's still a hustle. We have full time employees now and it's a lot of responsibility to know that I'm in charge of someone else paying their bills. I would love to get to a point where I am not stressed and we have a streamlined flow of clients and referrals coming in.
I’d also like to expand the number of therapists and the types of therapy that we offer. One of the things about my practice I’m very proud of is that each clinician with us has a different specialty. This allows us to serve a wide variety of clients.
How can Nirvana help you get there?
By continuing to help therapists and clients access insurance benefits. Our practice works with eating disorders, substance abuse, CBT, psychodynamic, and more. These specialties have historically been siloed into different practices that a client may not feel comfortable to going to or may not know about. Nirvana supports me in being able to provide all these services under one umbrella practice.
Their customer service has been incredible. They are always attentive and available whenever I've had an issue. If a claim doesn’t go through, they’re immediately on the phone with me or they schedule a video call to discuss the issue. Sometimes, there are three of them on the call with me, all working to resolve the claim as quickly as possible.
I feel that the entire Nirvana team really cares about me and my practice and the challenges we face as therapists. I’ve worked with two of the founders, Akshay and Kelvin, for a while now. They are truly dedicated to solving the problem of providing greater access to insurance for both clinicians and clients alike. For them, it’s not just a business idea, it’s their personal mission, which I think is a testament to the success of their business and the quality of the Nirvana product.