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Starting a practice

3 things you need to start your own practice (and 3 things you don’t)

An illustration of a to-do list.

Here’s your starter kit for private practice, according to providers who’ve been there before.

If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to starting a mental health practice, you’re not alone.

“We all get trained to treat mental health conditions from a clinical standpoint,” says Andy Cruz, a private practice psychiatrist and medical director at Headway. “But we don't learn about billing and coding, and we don't learn about how we go out and market ourselves and get patients — all the practicalities that make it really hard to be a private provider.

While it’s certainly not easy to strike out on your own, it can be uncomplicated. There are really only a few must-have requirements to set up a practice with Headway. Everything else, from an office to a website to a business bank account, can come later — if you even need them at all.

Here’s your starter kit for private practice, according to providers who’ve been there before.

The only 3 things you need: NPI, CAQH, and malpractice insurance

As a fully licensed provider, there are only three things you need to start seeing patients in private practice:

Those three requirements can get you set up with Headway, where you can get in-network with insurance quickly, and begin seeing patients in a matter of weeks. (Check out Headway's onboarding guide for more details.)

If you're worried about what it will take to work with insurance after going in-network, you're not alone.

“When I started in my private practice, I would send a bill, and the insurance company would be like: ‘you didn’t code this right.’ Because I don’t know how!” Andy says. “ It was so hard.”

For a while, Andy hired someone to handle his billing and coding, but acknowledges what a financial hit that was to his bottom line in those early days of starting his business.

“Those things cost money,” he says. “Having a service that can do all that for you instead is really invaluable as a provider. Now, I don't really worry about that stuff. I just focus on patients, which is what I always wanted to do."

Headway's provider portal — called Sigmund — allows you to easily submit and manage claims (and receive payments in just 2 weeks), plus our product offers templates to simplify the end-to-end insurance documentation process — giving you time back to focus on your patients.

3 things you don’t need before you start a private practice

At least not right away. Each of these things can be valuable for your business, but don’t need to be a blocker to get started.

1. An office

Yu Wang, a nurse practitioner, started her own practice in 2022 with Headway. Because she built her solo caseload from zero patients, it was a part-time gig — just one day a week — that she could comfortably run from home. Only now, one year later with a full-time schedule, is Yu considering finding an office space so she can see patients in person.

“At the beginning, I really don't think it's necessary, because everything can be virtual,” she says.

It’s true: The Covid era ushered in a “remarkable transition” to virtual care, according to RAND researchers in a recent study published in the the JAMA Health Forum, and even today, nearly 60% of Headway providers today run their practice from home.

2. A business bank account

There’s no requirement that you keep your business income in a separate business bank account. Providers on Headway receive guaranteed, biweekly payments for care they’ve provided that can be deposited into a personal account.

A business bank account is a good idea, though, if you’re not great with money. Yu maintains a separate bank account and credit card: “Otherwise, it just seems to get a little messy,” she says.

Andy, on the other hand, doesn’t keep a separate bank account for his psychiatry business, but acknowledges that he’s disciplined about habits like setting aside money for self-employed tax payments. In fact, talking to a tax professional during your first year in practice can be a good first financial step to avoid any surprises, and make sure you're prepared.

3. A personal website

Yu doesn’t see any point to having a professional website. She says that she’s filled her ideal caseload by sourcing patients from marketing her practice on sites like Headway, Psychology Today, and other specialized healthcare directories.

“At the beginning of last year, I was thinking about having my own website,” says Yu. “And it just seems like, number one, it costs a lot of money. And number two, it doesn’t seem like it’s necessary.”

Andy agrees. He started his practice with a website, but took it down about 6 months later because he was getting more patient referrals from other sources.

"I built it myself. I liked it. It was nice,” he says. “But once I filled up, which was very quick, I was like: Why do I have this website? I keep getting referrals and I can't take them. So I took it down. I think things like Psychology Today or getting referrals through friends and family are sufficient.”

Headway takes away the administrative burden of working with insurance. From credentialing to claim submission and payment, we make the entire process seamless and stress-free.

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