How early should you start the insurance process?

Maybe you’re currently doing your dietetic internship, or maybe you’ve been running a private practice for years and taking cash payments, or perhaps you’re working in a clinical setting and thinking about venturing out on your own. Regardless of where you are in your career, as an RDN or CNS you’re probably familiar with the option to take health insurance. You’ve probably heard about the benefits: insurance companies are covering nutritional counseling at higher rates than ever before, physicians are more likely to refer patients to you if you’re already in the same networks as them, and you’re able to work with a number of new clients who may not otherwise have access to your services. But you may also be familiar with some of the challenges: the application process takes a while, it can be confusing and tedious, etc.

So when is it time to take the plunge and start the contracting process? In a word: now.

While it’s understandable to want to wait until you’re completely ready to start seeing clients and you feel prepared to file claims, the thing is, the contracting process can take up to six months (or in some cases, even longer). If you delay the start of the process until you’re ready to file claims, you may actually be unable to start seeing clients and filing claims for another six months.

It’s helpful to think of those several months in the waiting stages of contracting as a grace period —it’s actually providing you with built-in time to assemble the other pieces of your practice (finding a practice location, designing a logo, setting up your website and social media platforms, networking with physicians and other dietitians, etc.). These are things that you can do whether you’re just launching your career or whether you’re already working full-time and planning to pursue your own private practice.

We recommend setting a date by which you’d like to be seeing clients who can use their insurance benefits to meet with you. Maybe your target timeframe is March or April, to capitalize on people who have summer vacation goals, or maybe it’s August, to be available to potential clients who would like to incorporate nutritional counseling into their back to school routines. Once you have a date in mind, count backward six months and plan to start the contracting process no later than then!

Ready to take the leap? Congratulations on deciding to move forward! You can cross that first step off your list. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll need to proceed with the process.