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How the Right Health IT Services Are Helping Me Keep My Independence This Time Around

by Ronald Levine, MD, cardiologist

I remember quite clearly the moment I decided to become a cardiologist. It was a Saturday in January, 1972, and I was a 10-year-old watching the very first episode of the television show Emergency. The paramedic in the show (Johnny Gage) took out his defibrillator paddles, put them on a patient’s chest and restarted a man’s heart. I thought, “Wow! That is way cool!” That aha moment led to paramedic training, medical school, and ultimately a cardiology fellowship. I had a particular interest in cardiac emergencies (just like the TV show that ignited the flame).

I started my practice as a solo interventional cardiologist in Naples, Florida in 1997, growing to four cardiologists by 2007. Like many cardiologists around the country, we integrated with a hospital system in 2010. As time went on it became clear that hospital employment was not a good fit for me, so I chose to go back out on my own and start a medical practice.

Having built a practice from the ground up previously, I was fully aware of the various challenges that exist, as well as the fact that things have only gotten tougher. With increasing regulatory requirements in the face of declining reimbursements there are plenty of challenges that might represent hurdles to many. The complexities in opening a new medical practice include a long checklist of business tasks and decisions, from locating practice space to contracting with payers and choosing a health IT vendor. While all of this is essential, none of it relates to delivering care.

Going it alone can certainly be scary. I knew that having a partner to handle the non-patient care issues could make the difference between success and failure. Now that we have been open for more than two years my advice to physicians desiring independent practice: “Don’t go it alone.”

Cue the third act of my career as an independent physician...once again.

In 2013, I opened Levine Heart & Wellness. I knew that I had to approach this new “startup” a bit differently than my first practice.

During the first practice, I outsourced my billing, and I had planned to do the same the second time around, also adding a separate practice management system. I incorrectly assumed that the new staff (which had been with me since the early days of the original practice) would want to use the software and processes that they were comfortable using. Carefully evaluating the systems that we had been using made it very clear that continuing to practice the same way would be insane. Why? Because the practice management system didn’t talk to the clinical document and none of it talked to the revenue cycle management. There was a lack of connectivity and too much unnecessary work for the team. I went back to the drawing board, talking with colleagues in the area, and landed on athenahealth as one integrated system for our needs.

I needed more than a vendor. I needed a partner. When teams of experts are working on your behalf, you can relax and focus on your patients, not on whether you’re meeting Meaningful Use criteria or how you’re going to get paid. athenahealth’s network intelligence and back-office services make that a no brainer.

The athenahealth services have removed the hassles of practicing medicine from my daily workflow. I have time to listen to and truly focus on my patients and their care. By not having to worry about so many of the business aspects of the practice, my staff and I can concentrate on the patients, and deliver the exceptional care and personalized service that our patients desire. This means front desk staff that greet the patients by name, and can ask how their daughter’s wedding went and doctors that recognize them when they come in, know their history and truly care about their wellbeing.

Many of my colleagues have asked if I am surviving as an independent practitioner. I am pleased to be able to say, “I’m not just surviving, I am thriving.”

Learn more about how Levine Heart & Wellness is able to thrive as an independent practice.

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Submitted by Doc Bill Paronish - Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Great article. I am personally a very strong advocate of physicians becoming and staying independent and am presently becoming an independent my self after a 15 year non-independent association. Athena and its wonderful staff have been a vital help in my effort toward that independence and a solid factor in my confidence that I will maintain independence going forward. Thinking of becoming an independent physician- Think Athena Health!

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