Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is an exciting, challenging, and growing field that supports an underserved community. As the leading form of treatment for individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), this type of therapy focuses on improving and developing social, communication, and behavioral skills through reinforcement.
In 2016, the CDC estimated that 1 in 54 children had been diagnosed with ASD in the US. This is a 10% increase from 2014, and specialists expect the numbers to continue to rise in the 2020s. With only an estimated 30,000 Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) in the entire country, there is always a need for more providers that specialize in this type of therapy to open practices.
For BCBAs interested in starting their own practice, there is the possibility of great success on the horizon. The field needs more qualified professionals and ABA resources, particularly in certain parts of the country. Starting your own ABA practice could positively impact the community in which you reside.
Starting your own practice could easily be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of your life; you just need to take the time to plan and prepare. The better equipped you are for what goes into this journey, the more success you will achieve once you start. If you are an ABA provider thinking about taking the next step toward opening your therapy practice, read on! (You might want to download the entire toolkit now!).
Getting Started: Practice Size & the Basics
One of the first things you need to consider when taking the leap is how big you want your practice to be. How many clients will you have? Do you plan to grow from that number? Is it going to be a one-person operation? Are you going to hire staff? Do you plan on working with Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs)? If so, how many and how will you handle HR and payroll issues? Where are you going to offer your services–in-home, in-center, other? What is your projected revenue based on the answers to the above questions? Finally, how much will your initial investment need to be?
Defining your vision of your new ABA practice is the best place to start. This will lay the foundation for the rest of your decisions down the line. Here are some items to add to your planning to-do list:
Determine Your Size
Do you dream that your practice is a large organization with many moving parts, or do you envision yourself working one-on-one with your clients? Something in between? For example, running a small practice with only a handful of staff and clients or maybe just working with a few RBTs.
Regardless, defining the initial size of your practice will help you make the next round of decisions.
What Kind (and #) of Staff?
For some professionals, the word “staff” can mean a few different things. For example, someone wishing to run a small practice might need administrative help with scheduling and billing. For other providers, it might mean hiring other therapists (RBTs or additional BCBAs and RBTs for supervision) to expand their client base and the revenue of your organization. When planning, ask yourself: what kind of staff do you need?
Facilities / Office Space
There are many different spaces in which ABA therapy sessions can occur. Many times sessions are held in the home of the client. In-center/in-office visits are also common for ABA therapists. Regardless, you need to determine what physical space you plan to either rent or buy to support the size and function of your ABA practice. If you plan to have a wide range of clients coming in and out of your office, you will need space to handle these demands. If you are offering only in-home therapy, you might need a small office.
Speaking of renting space and hiring staff, providers need to determine what kind of overhead they are going to run into when they start their practice. Are you going to seek funding for these upfront costs? How are you funding the start of your business? Some of the most common overhead costs associated with starting an ABA practice include:
- Facility Costs
- Staffing Costs
- Business Licenses
- Insurance Credentialing
- Software (Scheduling, Data Collection, Billing)
- Recurring Costs/ Memberships (Directories, Phone Services, Internet, etc.)
- Website Costs
Do You Need Practice Management Software?
One of the most crucial costs and implementations to consider is whether or not you wish to use a Practice Management System (PMS).
Practice management software is a tool that many ABA providers use to increase efficiency and revenue, enhance accuracy, and improve processes within their operational workflow.
“Practice Management” is the process of automating scheduling, billing, authorization tracking, reporting, payroll, document storage across an organization.
No matter the size of your ABA practice, PMS software is specifically designed to help providers run their business effectively.
These automated tools improve the flow of daily operations, billing, and administrative functions and enable your team to accomplish more in their day while helping you stay organized across every process. If you’re a smaller practice without a billing staff or designated scheduler, PMS solutions are vital.
Why PMS Software Matters
With so many ABA PMS Solutions on the market, it is essential to know what features are necessary. Some software partners might claim how they can help your ABA practice run more smoothly, but the actual software capabilities–and how they fit your practice’s needs–are what matters. Any provider looking to start their own practice should consider the following features (and how they would work for your organization) in a PMS solution:
Scheduling is one of the most critical tools within any PMS. The right software will enable your practice to avoid mistakes, manage prior authorizations, input client and staff availability (vacations, school hours, etc.), send appointment reminders, create recurring appointments for clients, integrate SOAP notes, and push session information to the billing module. Scheduling tools should also include creating and organizing care teams, receiving notices for scheduling conflicts, creating custom schedules for different providers, and integrate with client/parent portals.
Integrated billing enables providers the opportunity to easily collect payments and track payment status, work with multiple payers, avoid billing mistakes, and stay on top of invoicing. The real secret, though: a quality solution will integrate billing with scheduling and patient intake date for a seamless workflow. Integrated billing is vital to perfecting your payment processes and growing your revenue.
Payroll & HR
Administrative responsibilities are essential for success but can quickly become burdensome without the right tool. Your PMS should be equipped with central HR document storage and payroll integration features to help your practice win. Track staff hours and run reports effortlessly. Upload payroll records to a third-party vendor to process payroll quickly.
ABA providers can easily add insurance prior authorization information to client records within most Practice Management Systems. When scheduling sessions, they can then assign treatment types and activities with the correct rates and codes, assign treatment models, and track and record allowed hours/units. Reporting features will also keep you on track for client authorization expirations.
Custom reporting tools should be available for all modules within your PMS. Providers should analyze treatment, scheduling, and revenue trends and data over time. Reporting features should allow users to easily review data related to clients, employees, payroll, billing, and scheduling. This data can be used to understand your practice’s inner workings better and use it to improve the quality of care and operational efficiencies.
Centralized and secure document storage is an essential component of any ABA practice. Your PMS should be equipped with HIPAA compliant documentation that allows you to:
- Upload complete client intake forms into the system, or integrate from a client/parent portal
- Store documents online for clients or staff
- Easily organize all files in one centralized location–don’t jump from system to system and waste administrative time
- Integrate a data collection tool such as Catalyst so that all SOAP notes are connected with rendered sessions within your PMS
As long as you find a Practice Management System that encompasses the features you need for your organization, you will be able to achieve optimal efficiency in every process, stay organized through each effort, and build your way to success as a new practice.
We’ve covered the very first items on your startup checklist here. Stay tuned for more and download the complete ABA Practice Toolkit eBook now by submitting the form below.