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How to Start an Outpatient Mental Health Clinic

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As the larger psychiatric hospitals give way to a different treatment approach, so does the need for outpatient mental health services become more important. Nowadays, people are managed in the community as opposed to being sent to hospital, except in the acute stage of illness or in severe cases. Mental health outpatient clinics are frequently attached to a larger institution such as a hospital. They offer a wide range of services, and the focus may also vary (for instance between a crisis management service, and a more long-term behavioral approach).

Assess the needs of your target community. It is very difficult to cover all the aspects of psychiatric care, so you may need to concentrate on specific specialities. This will depend on need, and on the availability of appropriately qualified staff. Discuss all the implications of the services offered with other experts; for instance if you offer substance abuse therapy, this will have an impact on all your patients.

Advertise for staff. These would normally include psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors and mental health nurses. Recruit appropriately qualified staff, ensuring that you follow up references, and follow the organizational guidelines on employment. Decide whether or not you are going to offer a home service.

Ensure that you have a suitable premises, that offers a secure environment and complies with local health and safety regulations. Develop appropriate policies and procedures on abuse, confidentiality, health and safety, staff management and non-discriminatory practice. Decide on opening hours, and whether or not you are going to offer an evening and weekend service. Publicize your service in appropriate places.

Establish relationships with other professional bodies in the local hospitals and in the primary care sector. Take part in multidisciplinary discussions with other professionals. Develop an auditing policy, employing an independent auditing service if necessary, to ensure that your policies and procedures are working properly.