Dr Louise Olivier
The following are valuable tips for private practitioners:
- Make sure that before the onset of any first interview with a client/patient he or she fills in a form and signs it which contains at least the following information:
- name; address; contact telephone numbers; e-mail address; medical aid details including the contact number of the main member; next of kin; contact number for the person mentioned as next of kin; an undertaking by the client/patient to pay the fee or be responsible for the fee even if he/she has a medical aid; accepts to pay the fee immediately after the consultation (if the practice is contracted out); the client/patient undertakes to cancel an appointment at least 24 hours before the time and the client/patient accepts the responsibility to change any details of himself/herself immediately with the administrative staff should the details change.
- Notes for each session must be meticulously kept. In cases of a complaint at the Health Professions Council of South Africa these notes will be of the utmost importance.
- Files must be stored in a safe place and locked at night to safeguard against it being accessed by unauthorised persons.
- All staff members must sign a confidentiality agreement preventing the dissemination of information gained through the management of the practice, vicarious direct patient interaction, and/or unintentional circumstances where sensitive client details may become known through the above-mentioned scenarios. You may want to discuss this with your attorney and formalize it as a standard operating procedure for all existing and new employees. This safeguards the identity of clients/patients that are well known in the private arena. Some publicly known clients/patients prefer to use a pseudonym and pay cash for the consultation in order to try and keep their identity unknown.
- Staff members must be taught not to speak about personal matters in front of the patients/clients in the waiting room. Not only is this unprofessional but also compromises the safety of staff. This may be particularly relevant in such cases where the practice renders services for high risk patients (e.g., severe psychopathology)
- Staff members must be dissuaded to fraternise with patients/clients on a social level outside the practice in a manner that could jeopardise the therapy/counselling of the patient (e.g. have an intimate relationship with the patient/client while therapy is still pending). Duel relationships in any workplace setting can be problematic and even dangerous but more so when we talk about these types of scenarios in a psychology practice.
- The psychologist should complete a form after each session and the patient should sign it. On the form should be: the name of the patient, file number, date, the code for the session (e.g. therapy 1 hour); a place for the psychologist to sign and a place for the patient/client to sign. This ensures that both agree on the duration of the session and the fact that the patient/client had in fact received therapy/counselling. This form would be very important in cases where there is a complaint against the practitioner at the HPCSA stating that the practitioner over-charged the patient/client or that he/she did not receive counselling/therapy on that specific date.