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Handing over pen and paper

June 1, 2007
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A freelancer can free up staff time and produce professional reports

The behavioral healthcare field is dramatically different from the profession I entered more than 30 years ago. Back then paperwork requirements were minimal. Progress notes were free-form, handwritten, and usually very brief. Accreditation organizations were in their infancy. Behavioral health organizations' policies and procedures covered only the barest essentials. “Managed care” had to do with how many clients to schedule each day.

Times certainly have changed, and now the field is overwhelmed by paper and documentation and reporting requirements. Everywhere a practitioner turns, a new form is required or a new report is due. Accrediting organizations seem to change their standards yearly, with each adjustment requiring multiple changes to policy and procedure manuals. Managed care pants down the necks of all providers.

It would be helpful if behavioral health organizations could hire full-time employees just to keep them from being crushed by writing duties. But who can afford such a staff person given today's competitive environment? Competition for reimbursement restricts most organizations to hiring those professionals who can generate payment for services. Thus, already overburdened staff members have to complete the required paperwork and reports.

Some staff members are well-versed in the art and skill of writing effectively, but most aren't. Coursework to improve writing skills is rare or nonexistent in most graduate training programs. Relying on someone who means well but doesn't write well typically results in material substantially below the level at which a CEO wants his/her organization to be recognized.

Staff should be focused on what they're trained to do—provide services. Your supervisors/administrators need to spend their time making sure services are of the highest quality. So who has time for writing projects? The freelance writer, that's who.

Benefits of Hiring Freelancers

Works only when needed. When you hire a freelancer, you pay only for the time the writer is doing his/her job. Gathering the information, writing the material, making changes or modifications you suggest—for these tasks are you billed, not for time shooting the breeze with coworkers, for sick time, or for office romances. The writer has his/her own office space, pays required taxes, buys needed equipment, and pays for any required insurance. You pay only for the writing and associated costs. There's no “downtime” with freelancers. You don't pay when he/she isn't working.

Focuses on the project. Since the freelancer doesn't have to produce billable hours by providing services to your clients, he/she can better focus on your writing project. There's no time-out for a therapy session, to take an emergency phone call, or to supervise another professional. And the freelancer is motivated to complete the project because his/her payment depends on it.

Offers a fresh viewpoint. A freelancer brings another perspective to your organization. The freelancer probably won't be obsessed with one way of seeing your project. He/she is probably unbiased and can bring in ideas/experience to your writing project.

Customizes materials. The freelancer writes what you want to communicate in the best way possible.

Creates aprofessional document. When it comes to the written material that represents your organization to the public, you probably want only the most professional, effective, and articulate material. A good freelancer will work with you to create material that reflects the image you want for your organization.

Minimizes errors. Despite the best intentions, errors show up in written materials. A freelancer dedicated to the project, however, can help minimize the chances of possibly costly errors by providing an outside perspective.

What to Look for in a Freelancer

Writing experience. The freelancer should have significant experience in putting words together effectively. Many people can write a sentence with no spelling or punctuation errors, but a good freelancer can do this and convey the image and information you want. When considering a potential freelancer, ask for samples of past work as well as references.

Experience in behavioral healthcare. A freelancer who has a background in behavioral healthcare will understand concepts more quickly, leading to less time required to finish your project—potentially saving you money. A freelancer with a behavioral health background also can use his/her experience to make suggestions for your project.

The Bottom Line

A good freelancer can help you project the image you want to prospective and established clients, state/federal agencies, accreditation organizations, and others. A freelancer can provide you with professional products and bring fresh eyes to your written materials.

C. Wayne Winkle, EdD, ABPP, is a Clinical/Administrative Officer at Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, as well as a freelance writer.