Initial screening phone call

#workbook #screening #gedit3

Initial screening phone call

I offer a twenty-minute screening call to potential clients. The screening is to clarify (1) Who’s the client? (2) Do I provide the services the caller is seeking? (3) Am I currently accepting new clients for the services the caller is seeking? (4) Are the services being sought likely to be consultation, ongoing care management, or both? And, after these questions are answered, if the caller wishes to proceed (5) Who will be the billable party? (6) Who will be at the initial consultation, and why?

Obviously, getting new clients is good for business; I like to eat as much as the next person. Nevertheless, I consider screening mutually beneficial. There are reasons I may or may not want to take on a client, and there are reasons they may not want to hire me.

I might be too busy in either the short term or the long term to provide the services they need. If their needs can wait, and they’re still interested, I’ll tell them to get back to me at a certain date.

When the services I provide don’t match what they’re seeking, I’ll refer them to other services.

Who’s the client

Identifying the client is usually straightforward. The client is the person who’s in need of care and/or planning for their future care. Typically, the initial contact is with the adult child, whose parent(s) may be suffering from the onset of cognitive impairment, or a physical ailment for which they need ongoing care, or a number of other difficulties related to aging. I inform the caller that, regardless of who pays my bill, my recommendations are based solely on the client’s needs for current and future care.[^I state that repeatedly in this book.] I also make it clear that I consider the client’s financial resources. First principle is to not add to a client’s problems.

The message that my concern is solely with the needs of the client alerts callers that, regardless of their assumptions, my focus will be on their parent (or in some cases, parents). I say this up front because, while uncommon, adult children may have an unspoken conflicting interest. Why unspoken? That can range from a secret conflict with another family member to an adult child who cares more about their inheritance than the well-being of their parent. (I discuss this further in the chapter, When things go wrong.) Most often, my message puts callers at ease: “I’m so glad to hear that. It’s exactly what I was hoping for.”

There are occasional exceptions to the identified client being the person in need of service.[^See the chapter, Who’s the Client?] A lawyer may contract with me for a narrative assessment of his or her client, or to research a specific topic. (See Working with lawyers.) Or a guardian may hire me to perform a specific role for their client.

When callers ask about my background, experience, and services, it may indicate that they’re researching options. I don’t bother to sell myself. In the long run, people defend their careful choices, but turn on those they feel manipulated them. I demonstrate my expertise through pointed questions. After we’ve both gone through our questions, I refer them to my website for additional information.

Callers’ questions suggest what services they’re seeking. If the questions are vague and/or anxious, I seek clarification why they’re seeking help, and why now? If they’re dealing with a crisis, I determine if I can help, immediately, or if they need a referral to an emergency service. I let them know, if they desire my services after the emergency has been dealt with, they can contact me again.

For example, to a caller who describes an elderly family member who’s suffered a fall and displays confusion, my first question is, “Has this been reported to the primary physician?” After discussing the issues and obtaining the caller’s contact information, I advise that they immediately call the primary physician for a medical assessment.

Why I might turn down a potential client

I might turn down clients if they’re not within my practice focus, or are outside my comfort zone, or are unmanageable within my current caseload.

Early in my career, I decided I would not supervise other service providers, such as private caregivers who are hired by a client or their family. Because I’m not the private caregiver’s employer, I’m unwilling to assume responsibility for the quality of their service. For example, if a caller wants to hire someone to set up and oversee 24-hour homecare, I refer them to an agency that provides that.

Further examples of who I refer out are clients who exhibit signs of dementia and paranoia, while having access to guns, and clients who use illegal drugs. In the former case, I would accept the client if the firearms were removed. In the latter case, I would refer the client to a drug counselor.

As a sole practitioner, when screening referrals, I must keep in mind my workload. If I’m devoting many hours to ongoing care management clients, I limit new clients to those needing only brief consultation.

These are lines I draw. You’ll have to define you limits and limitations, based on your expertise and the evolution of your practice.

Consultation, or ongoing management of care?

When someone calls to discuss my services, they usually have an idea of what they want. They may not be able to state that they want consultation or that they want management, but I can often determine that during the screening. If they’re undecided, the decision can wait until our first meeting.

Who will be the billable party?

I determine the billable party before the initial consultation. I refer the caller to my service agreement and disclosure on my website. If there’s a question who will pay the bill, I ask the caller to resolve that issue before the initial appointment. Most often, the spouse or the adult child who’s the durable power of attorney (DPOA) for the client assumes payment responsibility.

Who will be at the initial consultation, and why?

I may ask that the client be excluded from the initial consultation. If the client suffers from dementia, it can be stressful if their cognitive status and need for care are discussed in their presence.

At times, the DPOA may bring up whether the client should or shouldn’t participate in the initial consultation. If they don’t bring it up, I do. I want to gather information, without causing stress to my client.

  • What Services are they seeking, and do I provide them?
  • Is it an emergency?
  • Who’s the client? Who do I bill?
  • An I accepting new clients?
  • Who will be at the initial consultation, and why?

Published by Gary Bloom

Gary Bloom writes about learning, counseling, computers in education (and occasionally, some other stuff). He's a counselor, working in Edmonds.

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