Moving Alone, Moving Faster
Attempting anything solo, from sailing across the Atlantic to performing on stage, makes
for a higher level of difficulty. Being a solo physician is no different. Everything from
handling the actual patients and keeping pace with shifting government mandates to
sustaining and protecting the health of the practice takes more effort for the doctor
operating alone. Just ask Dr. Louis DiToppa who has been running his own practice for
24 years in White Oak, PA, just outside Pittsburgh. "This is tough work," he says. "And
there isn't anybody else to do the work."
DiToppa's practice is busy. In fact it's very busy. Already a self-described "lean
machine," DiToppa recently realized he needed more flexibility. Because he wants to be
light on his feet, he doesn't want to be tied to the slow pace of paper charts. He can't get
bogged down by a stack of files he needs to review every day.
By taking advantage of athenahealth's integrated cloud-based services he's no longer
tied to a paper chart and the exhausting work each can require. In the past, if he had
been out of his office from Thursday to Monday, he would return to four or five stacks
of charts on his desk. Blood work, correspondence, test results — all of it requiring
immediate attention. Now, with a cloud-based electronic system, he can take his laptop
with him and whip through hours of paperwork, review the information and send notes
back and forth with staff.
DiToppa recently took his laptop on a trip to Colorado to watch his daughter compete in
an ice skating event. When he got back to Pittsburgh, he says, "I walked in Monday and I
had no work on my desk."
Moving from Three Systems to One
DiToppa went into practice in 1986. He bought his first medical billing system the
next year. But over the years he ended up with three un-related, disconnected systems
that operated separately. He used simple software for office notes. He did electronic
prescribing on a tablet.
"Prior to partnering with athenahealth, I had three separate silos for the office. Medical billing was on one system. Software for office notes was on only one computer
and those had to be put on paper and into the chart after I dictated them. I had another
system for electronic prescribing. The three systems did not communicate with each
other and the info had to be done in triplicate," he says.
This clearly wasn't working for a lone doctor in a busy practice. Then by chance he
saw an ad for athenahealth in a magazine published for the physician community. In
February 2010, he went live on athenaCollector, in March he was live on athenaClinicals
and by July he was up and running on athenaCommunicator. The service athenahealth
delivers, even just handling fax traffic, is a major relief for DiToppa. "You can't pay
enough for that," he says.
Moving to Flexibility Not Just Efficiency with EHR
DiToppa has plenty of patients already, so the fact that his new EHR boosts productivity is
nice to know but not the main attraction. But he does appreciate that athenaClinicals, with its cloud-based, Stage 1
Meaningful Use certified clinical platform, gives him the flexibilityhe needs as a solo doctor. A laptop plugged into athenaNet® has supported positive
trends in his practice by allowing him to see patients in multiple locations.
"The biggest thing is not being tied to paper charts," he says.
For example, that flexibility can be seen in the continuity of care he can provide when
he has a patient in the hospital and he's working from there. In the old days he had to
call back to the office and get staff to answer his questions about the latest steps with
a particular patient "What did I do?" he says he'd have to ask, or "Can you fax over the
"Before athenahealth, at times we had to pull the same chart three times in one day and it
would be 'Where is the chart?' or 'Who has the chart?'. Now, the integration of faxes from
the hospital and from other health care providers into the electronic record has reduced
the work of pulling charts for the info to be filed," he says.
By relying on a fully cloud-based solution, DiToppa's solo practice has the time, access
and flexibility it needs.
"I have access to the patient record any time and any place. I am not trapped in the office
to finish reviewing all the patient lab results. I can do it at home if, for example, I have to
attend a function in the late afternoon or want to spend an early evening with my family.
I have recently traveled to California, Colorado, Boston, and even took a cruise and I was
able to complete my charts. I can access the office charts from the hospital when I make
hospital rounds each morning. A little time in the day saves me a bad, bad morning after a
The bottom line is that an integrated cloud-based solution makes operating as a solo
practice possible because "all the patient info from the history, exam, treatment plan, and
financial info is all integrated into a single database. And it's very easy to navigate. All
the info is integrated and it can be used for insurance quality programs," such as Pay-for-Performance programs.
Moving Forward with athenahealth as a Partner
Before leaping in with both feet, DiToppa says he was diligent and shopped around.
He visited athenahealth's Network Operations Center in Watertown, MA and noted
that if there was a slow response anywhere in the network, the operators would "start
twitching." He was impressed at the attention given to the performance of each practice.
The availability of federal stimulus incentives has made doctors across the country ripe
targets for health information technology vendors. But DiToppa has found more than just a
product with athenahealth.
"Everybody is trying to sell you something," he says. "But athena is like a partner in
* On average, our clients see an average 12% increase in collections and 35% decrease in days in accounts receivable. This information is based on a weighted average for athenahealth clients with valid pre-athenahealth benchmark data that had their 15-month anniversary with athenahealth during 2010.