Are You Setting a Trap for Yourself?

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When did you last update these forms?” asked my wife’s lawyer. She had asked him to review her intake forms, and he didn’t like what he was seeing.

Some are newer, but some are probably from when I started my practice, so I guess over 20 years,” she replied.

“We need to do something about that,” he said.

If you’re a member of online therapist groups, I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of threads that start off something like: “I’m looking for intake forms for my private practice. If you don’t mind sharing, please…TIA.” There’s nothing wrong with frugality, and I’m all for reducing business expenses. However, being frugal has its time, place, and appropriate targets. Your intake forms are not one of those! If you’ve been collecting forms shared by other therapists here and there, you’ve been setting up a trap that may well spring on you one day… when you’re audited for HIPPA compliance or worse, when someone sues you for breaching their health information privacy.

What Many Therapists Do (that You Should not Copy!)

When you first start out in private practice, it’s very common and understandable to try and minimize your expenses. Many therapists take this to extremes, however, and try to get free everything, including intake forms. The problem with asking for forms you can copy free of charge are several:

  • The forms you’re copying may not comply with the law because they’re outdated or may never have been written in a compliant way to begin with.
  • The forms may comply with federal law and with state codes of another state, but fail to comply with your own state’s statutes.
  • The forms may be protected intellectual property (IP), and the person giving you a copy isn’t the owner of those rights, so you’re engaging in IP theft.

What Most Therapists Fail to Do (that You Should be Doing!)

Even if you always made sure to only get forms from legitimate sources, they will still become outdated as time goes on and statutes change. Especially if you’ve purchased your forms piecemeal, they may not cover everything you have to cover, and may even contradict each other. That’s why best practice regarding intake forms is as follows:

  • Periodically hire an attorney who specializes in health-related forms and HIPPA to review your forms, especially if a recent change occurred in federal and/or state laws governing health information and/or therapy.
  • Don’t blindly count on the attorney knowing everything – use your own judgement and expertise as a therapist to respectfully question her advice if it seems off (Risa’s attorney, for example, thought that Marriage and Family Therapists may not be covered entities under HIPPA rules…).
  • Follow the attorney’s advice once you discussed it with her and are confident it’s accurate, paying her to update, add to, and/or delete portions of your forms as needed.

Bottom Line on Intake Forms

Your intake forms are there to educate your clients and obtain their informed consent to your policies (e.g., cancellation policies), your provision of therapy services, your control of their Personal Health Information – PHI (e.g., what controls you have in place to protect their PHI and what they’ll need to do for you to release their PHI), and your financial processes (e.g., your missed-session fees, bounced check fees, etc.).

Since these all protect you from legal action by unhappy clients and/or enforcement action by the powers-that-be, this is not the place to skimp. Hiring an expert attorney to help with your intake forms is a sound investment in your safety and peace of mind. Spending a few thousand dollars now may save you from a practice-ending penalty, fine, or damages judgment (or even one that bankrupts you personally!).

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