The thought of simultaneous implementation of new medical billing and
electronic health record (EHR) systems would give some practice managers pause—especially
when the age range of the clinicians goes from 31 to 82. But not Carolyn Russell, office
manager for Family Practice Specialists in Phoenix, Arizona. "That way," she laughed,
"everyone on staff—from the front office to the physicians—experiences some pain."
In truth though, the process wasn't painful. The practice went live on athenaCollector
and athenaClinicals in May of 2008 and hasn't looked back since. The staff and
physicians were very receptive to the change. Everyone is using the system and is
pleased with its performance and results.
The thriving practice has 11 physicians and offers moderate complexity lab and x-ray
services, plus a wide variety of other services, including physical therapy—all in one
No Integration Between Previous Medical Billing and EHR Systems
Previously, the practice handled billing in-house and had an EHR
system that caused many more problems than it solved. Russell, who has been with the
practice for 22 years, said they were more than ready for a change.
By switching to athenahealth's medical billing and EHR
services at the same time, Russell was able to address both problems. In fact, one of the
biggest advantages of using athenahealth's integrated system is that athenahealth's
back-office experts assume much of the time-consuming but vital day-to-day tasks for
both medical billing and medical records.
EHR Document Management Support
"The fact that the athenahealth staff handles all incoming clinical documents, like faxes
and lab reports, by scanning them and uploading them to the proper electronic patient
record, is huge," Russell happily reported. "The athenaClinicals lab interface has been
particularly helpful. This saves us an enormous amount of time previously spent on just
Thanks to athenahealth's combination of cloud-based medical billing services,
continually updated payer rules engine, and processing specialists, Russell proudly
reported that financial metrics have greatly improved across the board.
Medical Billing Issues Identified and Resolved
Family Practice Specialists' days in accounts receivable dropped from 39 days to 25.6
days after implementing athenaCollector. Russell attributed this significant decrease
to the "beauty" of athenahealth's proprietary payer rules engine, which continually identifies and catalogs payer rule changes and applies the new information immediately
to affected claims. The end result is that the vast majority of the practice's claims get
paid on first submission to the insurance company.
If issues do arise, athenahealth's staff quickly identifies the problem and works
with the practice if additional information is needed or automatically appeals the
The electronic eligibility checking feature has also resulted in an improved bottom
line. Russell is very impressed with the number of insurance coverage problems
that are identified with this function. "Prior to the appointment, we know if there is
a coverage problem and can call the patient to resolve it."
Previously, Russell said, it was very difficult for staff to find the time to check
eligibility. The service would be delivered, the claim denied, and the fight to get
paid would begin. "athenahealth's eligibility checking has proven to be very
beneficial since it brings in revenue that we previously would have lost. Plus, it has
freed up staff time for other duties," Russell reported.
Reporting on Performance Measures Brings in New Revenue
The practice's ability to participate in PQRI and pay-for-performance [P4P]
initiatives has also enhanced revenue. "athenahealth staff pretty much handled the
whole thing for us. They walked us through how the program works and took charge
of changing the super bill for us. Now the claim won't go out without the proper P4P
information in it."
It's this hands-on, "let us handle the back office details for you" approach that
makes both athenaCollector and athenaClinicals so valuable to practices.
EHR Streamlines Prescription Process
Another huge time saver is that athenaClinicals, athenahealth's EHR service,
streamlines the entire prescription process. Russell said it allows nurses to prepare
prescriptions for physician sign-off; it allows physicians, when they are out of the
office, to go on-line to check and process refill requests, accessing patient records
if needed; and it allows nurses and physicians to easily communicate by email
regarding prescription and all other clinical issues.
Financially, switching to athenahealth was unquestionably the right decision.
Russell said that the practice cut back on patient volume when they went live on
athenahealth in order to give everyone a chance to learn the new system. Since the
transition went even better than expected, the practice has ramped up the volume
and the revenue is following.
Add to that the fact that overhead is dropping and you know you have a winning
combination. athenaClinicals allowed the practice to eliminate transcription costs,
which saves them nearly $100,000 to date. Plus, Russell said, "There are many
other intangible savings such as employee time." Russell also noted that she is
already seeing that there may be an opportunity to lower staffing costs.
"We are really pleased with athenahealth and would definitely recommend it to
other practices," Russell reported. "The results are remarkable."