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  • Writer's pictureMark Valdez

Building the Modern Mental Health Care Practice with Dr. Michael Stokes

[Editor’s Note: We are privileged to have Dr. Michael Stokes, the founder of Stokes Counseling Services, for this month’s industry leader Q&A. In 2011, Dr. Stokes, a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Doctorate in Professional Counseling and Supervision, established Stokes Counseling Services in Naugatuck, CT. He aimed to create a barrier-free environment where individuals and families could seamlessly access essential mental health services. Under his leadership, Stokes Counseling has embraced technology, from the introduction of telehealth to the adoption of data analytics solutions to better serve his patients and providers. As the practice prepares to launch its revamped web presence later this week, Dr. Stokes shared his insights into the role of technology in healthcare and the future of Stokes Counseling Services.]

[MV]: Let's dive right in, Dr. Stokes. Can you tell us about the evolution of Stokes Counseling Services and how technology has played a role in its growth?

[MS]: I started SCS 12 years ago as a private practice after becoming disenfranchised by the existing options for mental health care which oftentimes lacked the compassion, support, and strong cultures that a great practice needs to best serve patients and providers. Our community deserved better! As we grew, technology became an essential tool in expanding our reach. One significant game-changer has been the adoption of telehealth. It's allowed us to serve patients in more rural areas or those with travel restrictions. This not only ensures that more patients receive the treatment they need but also broadens our patient base. We were fortunate to have adopted telehealth into our practice prior to the pandemic so that once lock-downs started we quickly shifted the practice so that we could continue to meet the needs of our patients during a really critical time. Even now, telehealth remains the predominant mode for delivering care which is really meaningful to our patients and providers.

[MV]: How do you envision the role of technology in your business longer term? What impact do you think it will have on your company and industry?

[MS]: I see technology as the backbone of our future operations. It will streamline our processes, enhance patient experience, and allow us to adapt to the ever-evolving healthcare landscape. In the long run, I believe it will position us as leaders in the industry, setting benchmarks for patient care and operational efficiency. That being said, I believe strongly in the human element of providing great care. The social and emotional connection between individuals remains fundamental. There is no doubt that technology will play a role in augmenting mental health services (probably in ways we can’t even predict today), but I think licensed providers are indispensable in helping individuals navigate the complexities of their emotions.

[MV]: Can you tell us about a software product that you have implemented recently and the impact it has had on your company?

[MS]: Certainly. We recently integrated JazzHR for our recruitment processes. Before this, we managed everything through various Google sheets and a filing system for the printed resumes of candidates we had in our process. JazzHR has centralized and streamlined our recruiting process making it more efficient and leading to quicker, more informed hiring decisions. It enhances collaboration, automates workflows, and ultimately provides us greater insight in our hiring process – what's working and what's not.

[MV]: Is there a pain point you know you want to solve with software but haven't been able to yet?

[MS]: Too many to count! One challenge we're still grappling with is achieving a seamless scheduling and onboarding process for new patients. Ultimately this requires a more integrated front-end and back-end so we can surface openings and collect patient data instantaneously. Not only will this create a better patient experience but it also reduces the burden on our administrative team from having to handle some of these workflow manually.

[MV]: Referrals are a significant component of your business. How are you leveraging technology to better serve both the patient and physician population in this regard?

[MS]: You're right, referrals are crucial. Interestingly, we've decided to keep using our current software, Constant Contact, after looking into other options. We found that it continues to meet our needs at a cost-effective price point. The big shift has been in our approach to using Constant Contact. We're communicating more, sharing updates on community events and resources for our patients. We also make sure to keep our referring physicians updated about our services and the referral process. This enhanced communication not only strengthens our relationships but also boosts brand awareness among both patients and referring physicians.

[MV]: Lastly, with the ongoing tech transformation, can you share a success story or a particular case where technology made a significant difference?

[MS]: Absolutely. We're just about ready to roll out our updated website, and we're really excited about it. The new design is more modern and user-friendly, making it a more welcoming destination for potential patients to learn more about Stokes Counseling. We know that 60% of our web traffic comes from mobile web, but our current website is really not optimized for the mobile viewing experience. We think the new design will make a huge difference for visitors.

We also wanted to use a new web design to better feature our amazing team of clinicians. They are the heart and soul of our business and we wanted each clinician to have an individual profile page to better display their backgrounds, experience, and areas of expertise. We're eagerly awaiting its launch and the transformative impact it will have on our business.

[MV]: Very exciting! With the digital age upon us, how crucial do you think a company's web presence is, especially in the healthcare sector?

[MS]: A company's website often stands as the initial touchpoint for prospective patients or potential hires. It gives a glimpse of the company's professionalism, trustworthiness, and the caliber of services they provide. Particularly in healthcare, where establishing trust is paramount, a distinguished web presence truly distinguishes a company.

[MV]: Thank you, Dr. Stokes, for these insights. It's inspiring to see the evolution of the practice and how you are building towards future success.

[MS]: There is certainly more work to be done, but we are excited about the journey and the future opportunity for Stokes to continue to serve our communities.

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