How To Be A Great Intake Coordinator Part 1 ft. Luci Carrillo & Jamie Mache

Being a great Intake Coordinator takes conscious effort and specialist training.

Listen in as Uriah's leadership team share their experience hiring and training great intake coordinators.

Click to listen now!

In This Episode, You'll Learn:

  • Five qualities of a great intake coordinator
    • Strong communication skills
    • Attention to detail & organization
    • Problem-solving skills
    • Creating & following systems
    • Ability to balance empathy with boundaries

Resources Mentioned In This Episode:

Therapy Intake Pro
Todoist
Grammarly

⬇️ Click for full episode transcript ⬇️

Luci
Hello and welcome to the Productive Therapist Podcast! My name is Luci and I am the Director of Sales & Marketing over here at Productive Therapist. I'm joined by my co-host, Jamie, who is our Director of Operations. Hi, Jamie! How are you today?

Jamie
Hello! I am good.

Luci
Good. And for you listening, don't worry, we haven't locked your eye in a closet somewhere. He's asked us to create a few episodes so we can share with you some of our operational knowledge of therapy practices and VA's to help you get more done so you can have more fun. Love that tagline. Okay, so in this episode, we're going to be discussing what it takes to be a truly great intake coordinator, which is a great topic and one we get asked about a lot. So, Jamey, an individual may already be a great general admin person, they might be a great executive assistant. But what's different about being an intake coordinator for a mental health practice? And why is it so important to Excel at this specific role? What do you think about that?

Jamie
What I think of is intake coordinator for our mental health practice is that to be irreplaceable and that you could have job security and do your best to provide services to those that are looking for the help when they need help at this time in their life.

Luci
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I would agree with that. And really, the practice owner is depending on you to do your job well, aren't they?

Jamie
Absolutely. It's the first point of contact for that practice, and that is everything for the practice. You need to have that warmth, the empathy, and then the knowledge of the practice, the different services that the therapist provide in that practice and be able to communicate and relay all of that professionally and warmly to the client that is calling.

Luci
Yeah, absolutely. And those are qualities that we specifically look for when we're hiring virtual assistants for productive therapists, aren't they? They're really vital to doing a good job for our members. Okay, so it's vital to do well at this job because your practice owner, the health of the practice is depending on you to do your job as well as possible. But also as the intake coordinator, you get some nice perks from that because you become basically irreplaceable. You have job security and you have a happy boss, which everybody wants, don't they?

Jamie
Absolutely.

Luci
Okay, so what does that look like in practice? How would you sum that up?

Jamie
I would say that by doing that as an intake coordinator, that it would build and give the intake coordinator positive self esteem and confidence because they know that they are helping clients that are calling in for services. They are helping the practice owner and the clinicians at the practice fill their schedules, do what they love to do is providing services to clients and making sure that everything runs smoothly behind the scenes and giving that sense of fulfillment and achievement by doing that.

Luci
Yeah, that's a really good point. Everybody wants to do a good job at their job, but specifically when you're working with a mental health therapy practice, you're really on the front lines of helping people or helping people to get the help they need. Obviously, that's important to the practice owner. That's why they created a therapy practice and became a therapist in the first place. But for an intake coordinator, you really get to be a part of that as well because you're helping connect the caller with the right therapist, the right form of therapy, what's going to help them to get the best solution to their problem, aren't you?

Jamie
Yes, you're the first step in their process, in their journey of getting help. And that first step can be the hardest and the scariest step. And you are the one that they are reaching out to. So you are what I think is the most important step.

Luci
Yeah, I like that. It's a really important role and it can be incredibly fulfilling as well. Yes. Yeah, that's great. So you and I have both worked with countless practice owners and many, many virtual assistants in that role of intake coordinator. And we've both noticed there are definitely specific qualities, traits, and skills that tend to help individuals to Excel at the role. I know we have quite a few we want to highlight. So in this episode, so you don't have to take a week off work just to listen to this episode, we're going to focus on five, and then we'll cover the other five in a future episode. So the five that we're going to cover today, number one, strong communication skills. Number two, attention to detail and organization. Three, problem solving skills. Four, creating and following systems. I know, Jamey, that's one close to your heart. I'm excited to hear what you have to say about that one. And number five, the ability to balance empathy with boundaries, which is very interesting. So, Jamey, do you want to kick us off? What would you say are the important elements in strong communication skills to being a great intake coordinator?

Jamie
So with the communication skills, I feel like it needs to be strong written and verbal communication skills. You can't do a subpar job on the communication. And especially if your intake coordinator is a remote position, the communication is critical. And what I like to share with everybody is you basically have to over communicate with your intake coordinator and have your intake coordinator over communicate with you and your staff just to make sure that everything is being touched on, everything is being done. I like to also recommend a weekly check in with the practice owner as a intake coordinator. So you have that one on one time with the practice owner to get any questions answered, go over anything like that. It also helps build the foundation of a relationship when you are starting with that practice. It also allows that one on one time. Then on the side of it for the practice owner, the communication skills being available for your intake coordinator when they have a question so they are able to do their job in a timely manner.

Luci
Yeah, that's a really good point. I really like what you said about the strong written and verbal communication skills, because often when we are interviewing candidates for the virtual assistant role at Productive Therapist, we interview all kinds of people, we see all kinds of applications come in. And it's surprisingly rare to find an individual that has both written and verbal strong communication skills. It's usually one or the other. So when we find the rare breed that has both, that's a really good start for us. But with the written, I know I've told you this so many times, it's my pet peeve, but spelling and grammar and punctuation, it's really important to get those right because as the intake coordinator, any communication that you have with a potential client, whether that's on the phone or through email or text, you're that first line, the first point of contact. You're setting the scene for the practice, as it were. And if you are making spelling mistakes or punctuation mistakes, if you tend to ramble on in really long sentences, if the grammar is not quite right, people notice that often even before they register what you're saying in those sentences.

Jamie
Absolutely.

Luci
Yeah, it's really important, isn't it? And I think we both use different spell checkers and grammar checkers for any communications we send out because it's so important.

Jamie
It is important. Grammarly is your best friend. That is a great platform just to double check your emails. Like you said, you cannot over check the communications that you send out because, like you said, it does shine a light or dim the light of the practice if the written communication is not at a level where it should be.

Luci
Yeah, that is super important. And obviously, everybody thinks that their punctuation and grammar and sentence structure are just fine because that's what you have been used to doing. And of course, you think it's right, otherwise you wouldn't have written it in the first place. But like Jamie said, having a tool like Grammarly, and we'll put a link to that in the show notes so you can check that out. Having a third party tool like that, maybe your spelling and punctuation are perfect, but it doesn't hurt to check. And having a tool like that to check that for you can go a long way towards the image that you're creating or sending out for your practice. So that's definitely very important. And if your intake coordinator is... Or if you as the intake coordinator, if you're virtual, if you're not in house, like Jamie said, communication is especially vital because when you're in person, there's a lot of nonverbal queues that you can pick up from a person. But when it's virtual or when you're not having a face to face conversation over Zoom or FaceTime or whatever, you've got to make sure that what you're saying has been heard and understood and that you're hearing and understanding what your practice owner is communicating to you. So like Jamie said, over-communicating, you'll probably feel like you're over-communicating, but that's probably the right amount of communication, to be honest, because it's so vital to make sure that things are clear. There's no miscommunication.

Jamie
I was going to say and make sure that it's understood in the context of who is delivering that message. You may think that it's written out and I may have one thing in mind, but it may be read and understood completely different. So adding in that clarification of you can never ask too many clarifying questions either. And so just making sure that the context and the clarity are there is as important as the communication, the initial communication.

Luci
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And like Jamie said, this is particularly important in the beginning of your working relationship with the practice owner. As you get into the swing of things, they get to know you, you get to know them. The over communication may not be so necessary because you understand each other. The tasks are clearly outlined. You know what you're doing. They know what's being taken care of. But at the beginning, when you're just forming that relationship to have the smoothest transition possible for them and for you, it really helps to over communicate, to aim to over communicate. And then Jamie's suggestion about having a weekly check in with the practice owner is brilliant. And this is something that we've implemented with our virtual assistants, isn't it, Jamey?

Jamie
Yes. At the beginning of our services, we do weekly check ins with our lead VA. And then I'm sorry, those are biweekly. And then on the other weeks, we do it with the lead VA and also the virtual assistant. So we have that foundation of communication with everybody on the team that is working closely together. So it's a positive experience because we don't want the first time that everybody is getting on a Zoom call together is because we're trying to resolve some a bump in the road or an issue. We want to have that positive foundation set forward so the lines of communication are open and it's not awkward on that first time of everybody getting together because something is not right.

Luci
Yeah, those are really great suggestions. Okay, so strong communication skills, vital. Our second point, attention to detail and organization. Oh, my goodness, this is such an important one. Oh, my goodness. Jamey, I know that you've got several points that you want to touch on here. How does good attention to detail and organization make all the difference in this role?

Jamie
It is a huge thing for this role that there are so many tiny, tiny details that an intake coordinator needs to pay attention to. And if one is missed, it could cause a huge issue for the practice. Of course, the simple attention to detail can be making sure that the phone number and email address of a client is recorded properly in the EHR. It could be making sure that the intake paperwork is received prior to their first appointment, and if it's not following up on that intake paperwork with the client, and it can go into bigger items. For example, if a client is a minor, do you have consent from both parents that the minor can receive services? Something as simple as that, especially if there are split households, you need to make sure that you have consent from both parents or that you have the custody and court documents stating which parent can make those legal decisions on behalf of the minor. Having stuff like that is a very, very important detail that you can't miss. Another example, a special payment arrangement for a client. Do they want to use their HSA card or going back to having a split household? Do the parents alternate payments? Do they split the payments in half? Paying attention to all of those specific details for multiple members is a lot and organization is critical.

Luci
That's a really good point. Oh, my goodness, that example you gave about the client being a minor, it's one that you may not think about immediately, but those scenarios, they can really make or break a client's interaction with the practice as well as preventing HIPAA violations, which are a very real thing. I think in our training for intake coordinators, therapy intake pro, we have an example training call showing a caller who wants to make an appointment for their child, but they are divorced. So the other parent needs to be involved. But if that wasn't something that you thought about in advance, you may not think about that in the moment because the child's mother or the child's father is calling, very legitimate, the mother or father, they should be able to make an appointment. Except that's not how it works in practice. You have to make sure you have consent from both of them. That is a really good point, Jamey. And with organization, that's very challenging. It can be very challenging. Our virtual assistants work with multiple practices, so they have to do quite a juggling act to make sure that they're staying organized and on top of tasks, following up on intake documents and so forth. What are some ways that you have found, Jamie, that have worked for RVA's to keep that level of organization? Are there any tools that come to mind for you?

Jamie
The first one I would say is a task management platform that you can put, have folders or sections for each of the practices if you're working with multiple practices, and then have subfolders for those tasks. So, for example, one for intake documents, so you can set up those reminders prior to that first appointment that it gives what I call you that little tickle to go into the EHR and check to make sure that John Doe has their intake documents in prior to that first appointment. It's not everything that you're keeping up in your lovely brain that's waking you up at two o'clock in the morning like, Oh, my gosh, did I remember to check and make sure that the intake documents for tomorrow's sessions are turned in? So in a task management platform and then also calendars, having some a calendar with deadlines for bigger projects so you can have that glance. And also, what works with your way of staying organized. There are several different types of task managers out there. It is critical for you to find the one that works best for you. I don't personally like Trello. It doesn't work with how my brain works, so I don't tend to use that one. I love Todoist.

Luci
Oh, my goodness. I was hoping you were going to say that. It's so true. It has to work with your brain. Many of our practice owners use different task management tools, don't they? But you and I seem to keep coming back to to do is just so brilliant.

Jamie
Yes. And the way I the analogy that I share with the members that are going through our practice prep is a task manager is like a cute pair of shoes. You may be in the department store, see the shoes. They are the cutest pair of shoes. You purchase them, the first time you wear them, they kill your feet and they are not comfortable at all. That's great. They just sit in your closet and collect dust. And and so that's like the task manager. If it doesn't work with how your brain works, you're not going to use it. And it's just going to sit on your desk top and collect dust. You really need to find the one that works with how your brain works, because then you will use it.

Luci
Yeah, that is an excellent point. And it might take time to do that. But if you're not using the one that works right with your brain, you're not going to use it. So it's not going to give you any benefit anyway. So it is worth the effort to find the one that works for you. Like we said, Jamey and I both love to do it. I think, yes, there is no downside to do it. It's just perfect for.

Jamie
Us at least. It's really easy. Yes, I use it as a brain dump. I put everything in there that has any a deadline or needs to be done for sure. And even if it's something that is reoccurring that I have been doing for five years, I still have it in there just so I have that little reminder and I don't have to worry about anything. And nothing, like I said previously, is waking me up at two o'clock in the morning with, Oh, my gosh, did I remember to do this?

Luci
Yeah, that is a really good point. Task managers are super helpful. And also if you've created a project, a large project for the practice, and you need to make a note of all the steps and the sub steps that are involved. Try saying that five times fast, sub steps, sub steps. Having a task manager for that can be super duper helpful because you can then collaborate with others on the team. They can check things off as they get done, and so you can communicate with them through the platform. There's really countless ways that you can use a really good task manager. And like Jamie said, there are lots of options out there. There's Asana, To Do list, Trello, Blue, Monday. There's really endless options. We will put a link to To Do list in the show notes because that's our favorite and because we don't want to overwhelm you with endless options. But yes, definitely do some research and find the one that works for you. So our third point is problem solving skills. And this is an interesting one because, yes, it sounds great. That label, problem solving sounds fabulous. But in reality, it's vague. That can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So, Jamey, how would you sum up what problem solving skills look like in the context of a mental health intake coordinator?

Jamie
I would say that a mental health intake coordinator would need to have the ability to be independently resourceful to figure out and work through any issues that come up. Say, a certain platform that they're working with isn't doing what it's supposed to, or they can't log in. Not just saying like, Oh, well, I can't get in and waving your white flag. Have the ability to be resourceful, to try and figure it out. And always try and figure it out on your own first. And my favorite word.....

Luci
Have the grit. I knew it was coming!

Jamie
Have the grit to work through the issue and not just waive the white flag at any bit of an incline that you come up to, because we all have those little trials and tribulations, especially with technology and being resourceful to try and figure it out first and then know that if I tried to figure it out and I can't, that you, A, Google is your best friend. I Google everything. And if Google doesn't have it, I'm sure YouTube has something.

Luci
And if they don't have it, AI has it.

Jamie
Ai has it. And then you also have your team to fall back on. But always be resourceful and try to figure it out first and work through it and try. I keep saying try and figure it out. I go back to trying to learn how to tie your shoes. You didn't get it on the first time.

Luci
Do you like shoes, Jamie? I'm getting the impression you like shoes!

Jamie
And the funny thing is I don't own that many pairs of shoes, but the ones that I do are very comfortable!

Luci
Like your task manager?

Jamie
Yes. And it's like, I guess I'm saying this because my youngest is learning how to tie his shoes right now. And not just tying them, but I did not realize there are several different ways to tie your shoes. My oldest ties his shoes differently than what I tie in my shoes. And so it depends on who's helping you also. There could be several different ways to get to the end product. So having those resources and trying to get to where you are wanting to be is very important because it's not enjoyable having somebody ask a question to where I know I can Google that answer and have it in less than 10 seconds.

Luci
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So grit is a big one. I feel like that's a whole subcategory of our interviewing process is grit. It's very important. And yes, relying on your team for support, that can be super duper helpful. And yeah, between Google, YouTube, and AI, there is really no question that you can't answer. They're pretty comprehensive.

Jamie
They are. And especially also to add to that, the platform's own help center. So I know the majority of the platforms that we work with have their own internal help platform. You can ask a question, articles within theirs, or they have communities that you can ask a question to. And also, there are a ton of Facebook groups out there for different things that you can ask a larger, what I call, hive of questions. And you are getting that input from many brilliant people.  

Luci
Okay, so our fourth point, creating and following systems. Oh, my goodness, this is so important in basically any job. But having the ability to put a process in writing, so you have those steps in front of you and you know what needs to be done to get a consistent end result, that is incredibly important, isn't it?

Jamie
I would say it is one of the most important steps that needs to be laid out for any intake coordinator. So they are able to follow a process or a flow chart and know what steps need to be taken in the order that the practice owner wants them to be taken to get to the end result. Being consistent in those steps just goes back to making sure that everything is taken care of. When the client is sitting in session with their clinician, that their clinician and the practice owner can be assured that everything is taken care of for that client up until that point. The insurance is checked, the copays are checked. If it's a private pay, all the information is entered in. So when the client receives that super bill to submit to their insurance company, it won't be rejected for the address not being entered in for the client or something as simple as that, that they can be assured that from A to Z, everything is taken care of.

Luci
Yeah, that is a really important point. Something that we have implemented in-house at Productive Therapist is to have each of our virtual assistants create what we call a day in the life document for each of their practice owners. And this document is pretty straightforward. It just basically outlines what the virtual assistant, the intake coordinator does first thing in the morning, what steps they go through, what tasks they work on, at what point of the day or the week or the month. And that document has been a lifesaver so many times because if the intake coordinator is off sick suddenly or they are going on vacation, it allows basically anybody to jump into their shoes and follow this SOP that they've created to replicate the job that they've been doing. So if you haven't already created something like that for the practice owners that you're working with, that can add a huge value to your practice owner. If you suggest that, or better yet, just create it and present it to your practice owner, it's another step that helps you to become irreplaceable, but also allows the practice to keep the intake portion of the process running while you're out for whatever reason. That has been a super helpful document, hasn't it, Jamie?

Jamie
It has. And it makes sure that there is consistency if we never know what's going to happen, if there was an emergency and you had to be out for a week or two being the intake coordinator for the practice, having that day in the life of, you know that when you come back to your position, that things were done consistently with how you were doing them. So you're not having to go back and recheck or double make sure that the intake paperwork was done, or Judy's schedule was followed correctly on how she has her clients scheduled, or any of those little specifics for that. It creates even workflow. So when you come back, you know that everything was taken care of how it should have been, and you're not spending extra time catching up with the task.

Luci
Yeah, that's great. Thank you. So our final point today is the ability to balance empathy with boundaries. This one is super interesting and I feel like this is a challenge that gets raised quite often at the monthly Q&A calls we have for Therapy intake Pro, which if you haven't checked it out, that is a really, really helpful tool for intake coordinators. It's the gold standard training in our industry for intake coordinators. And we actually created it inhouse for our virtual assistants. They go through that in their training, and it was in such high demand that we actually rolled it out to other practice owners so they could use it to train their intake coordinator. But this ability is not something that you may think of immediately as a requirement to be an intake coordinator. But really, the people who are most often attracted to this role are warm, caring, friendly individuals who really want to help people. Would you agree with that, Jamey?

Jamie
Yeah, absolutely. The warmth and the want to help people, even though that this is a support role. A lot of people think that if you're not on the front line, if you're not doing the face to face work with somebody, that you're not really one of the ones that are helping. But I feel that a support role is just as important as a face to face role because it allows those who are in the face to face role to be able to do that to help the person because of the support that they're getting on the back end from the intake coordinator.

Luci
Yeah, I agree with that. And this is a great thing. Having somebody warm and caring in this role is what you want. But along with that comes a unique challenge because obviously you're answering the phone or you're calling somebody back and you have no idea who you're going to speak to, what challenges they're facing, and they need to tell you a little bit about that so you can make sure they match with the right clinician. But in doing that as a warm, empathetic person, it's easy to start becoming involved with that person. You really start to care increasingly as you hear some of the struggles that they've been going through or are going through. But also you have to bear in mind that you are there to connect this person with the help they need. And not just them, but many other people like them. And that empathy, that connection can go to a point where you're spending so much time on a call with one person that you can't help the two or three or four other people who have called in the time that you've been on the phone to this other caller. So it is very important to get the balance right between having that empathy and warmth and connection, but also setting boundaries. And this could be time boundaries or it could be personal boundaries because we all have triggers, things that can take us back to events or experiences in our own lives that were challenging. And we have to be able to know what the limit is for us personally so that we don't get triggered by what the person is telling us. Would you agree with that, Jamie?

Jamie
Triggered or burnt out, it can be very easy, especially if you have multiple calls that what I refer to are heavy calls. It can really wear on an intake coordinator hearing the struggles or the experiences of others. And it can cause to burn out and feel deflated.

Luci
Compassion fatigue.

Jamie
Compassion fatigue, exactly. And that is something that is very real in this position. And you really need to know when you're getting to that point and how to take care of yourself when you're at that point. But what I also like to stress is taking care of yourself prior to that point, knowing those little things to do to take care of yourself so you don't burn out by providing the services as an intake coordinator.

Luci
Great points. We hope this has been helpful to you. Just a quick recap of the five qualities or traits that we discussed today that are vital in an intake coordinator: Number one, strong communication skills. We talked about both written and verbal. Number two, attention to detail and organization. We talked about today's and task managers, ad nauseam. Number three, problem solving skills. Grit. Having grit, as Jamie would say. Number four, creating and following systems that can be incredibly valuable to both you and your practice owner. It helps your sanity, it helps the practice owner know what's being done and when. And then finally, the ability to balance empathy with boundaries. This will make sure that you have not only time for everything, but you have the personal energy, mental and emotional to continue doing your job at the excellent level that you have been doing it. So we hope you found some action points that you can apply today in your role as an intake coordinator, or if you're listening and you're a practice owner, some helpful points for your intake coordinator to train them further. Jamey and I are absolutely thrilled to be able to share some of our experience to help you, and we will see you in the next episode. Bye, Jamie.

Jamie
Bye!

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