Treating Private Patients in OT
Jena Casbon contacted me about writing this article – I think it’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about taking a private patient or two on the side. And I probably wouldn’t do it any time soon since I don’t have enough years of experience. But it’s something to think about for the future. 🙂 PS I have no idea how it works from a billing standpoint!
Treating Private Patients: A Great Opportunity for OT’s
Experiences During School Will Prepare You For…
It never ceases to amaze me how rich and diverse the field of Occupational Therapy is. Many incoming and early graduate students tend to think of our field in terms of:
- age range (mostly in terms of “kids or adults”)
- specific impairments such as arm and hand dysfunction, sensory integration, dementia, vision impairments, driving safety, or ADL’s
- areas of practice such as physical health, mental health and community
- treatment settings such as pediatrics, rehabilitation in hospitals, home health, private clinics, work hardening
Throughout your undergraduate/graduate coursework and clinical placements, you will gain exposure to a wide variety of age groups, disorders and practice locations. These experiences will help build your clinical skills, while molding yourself into a competent clinician.
Your Early Career
The first year after graduating from your OT graduate program is a both stressful and liberating time in your career. In many ways, you are on your own now: able to work on the areas where you feel your patient needs the most help. This degree of autonomy can be scary for many new grads, but hopefully your supervisor, colleagues or former graduate school classmates can support and encourage your clinical decision making.
During the first few years of your career as an Occupational Therapist you will continue to learn so much about disorders, how patients can present differently, how to manage patients and family dynamics, etc. At this stage you will likely begin to gravitate to a specific age group, diagnosis, etc. I urge you to take as many continuing education courses (CEU’s) as you can as you build your expertise. You may even opt to change jobs or settings in order to gain more exposure to different aspects of our field. All of these things will help you to grow and provide excellent care for your patients.
I Wonder If I Could Ever Have A Private Practice…?
Almost every OT friend of mine started out dreaming one day of having a private practice- but as they got into the field more and more, the safety of a regular job with consistent pay won out over the risk of going out on their own. To be honest, starting a private practice has a lot of extra work, extra responsibilities and headaches- but the trade off of high-income and more autonomy is very alluring for some people.
Private Patients: A Great Way to Start
Most of us got into this field because we love to help people, not because we wanted to make money. As time goes by though, the reality of car or house payments, wanting to have extra income for our families, vacations, etc. starts to hit and we become frustrated with our regular pay. Another benefit to private patients is flexibility of your schedule and also getting to treat ideal patients. Treating privately is a great way to help more people while making more money by seeing one to several private patients on the side.
How Does Private Therapy Work?
At some point, you will know colleagues that are treating private patients and a patient or family member will ask if you can provide private treatment. Private occupational therapy is often requested as a way to deal with:
- to provide consistent therapy during gaps over the summer for school-aged children
- to supplement therapy already being received (kids or adults)
- to continue therapy if insurance won’t continue to pay for services (kids or adults)
Most private therapy occurs in the patients’ home and OT’s are paid either through cash/check or reimbursed through an insurance company. Therapists need to have their own liability insurance, document their treatment, market their services to obtain more clients and pay taxes on this extra income. Most therapists charge between $75-$125/hour for their services.
Is Private Therapy Right For You?
I recommend that you have at least 2-3 years experience as an OT before you begin treating privately. You need to build up your expertise in a diagnosis or treatment technique so that your services are truly valuable to your private patients. Because you’ll be doing this on your own, you need to develop a level of confidence about both your clinical and business skills before you start. Starting to see private patients is almost like your first year of practicing all over again. Once you have some practice and experience, you’ll feel much stronger. Some clinicians start with private patients and then graduate to starting their own free-standing private practice- others keep their regular job and see private patients on the side.
I hope this has helped open your mind to yet another really cool aspect of the field of Occupational Therapy!
H. Casbon, MS CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist and founder of The Independent Clinician. After graduating from Emerson College in 2005, she has worked with adult outpatients in a rehabilitation hospital and inpatients in a skilled nursing facility. Three years into practicing as an SLP, she began treating private patients- but the lack of a “how-to guide” bothered her, so she wrote one.
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