When The Urology Group in Memphis, Tennessee initiated its search for new practice
management and electronic health record (EHR) systems, there was no time to lose.
They had made a massive investment in their previous system, but it was draining the
practice's revenue and efficiency. Staying profitable was a challenge, and growth was
unthinkable — even though the opportunity for growth was there.
"The practice was experiencing significant losses," says partner David Gubin, MD. "We
had no choice but to look for an alternative." The group's exhaustive search for a
better EHR eventually led to athenahealth, whose cloud-based, integrated medical billing, EHR, and patient communication services were appealing on many levels.
The Urology Group found athenahealth's centrally-hosted software-plus-service
approach appealing. They liked that athenahealth offered to relieve the practice's
paperwork and billing follow-up headaches, and that the EHR, athenaClinicals, and the
medical billing service, athenaCollector, were tightly integrated. They liked the
fact that athenahealth's business model linked the company's success level directly to
the practice's success level—that athenahealth was a partner, not just a vendor.
Swift, Dramatic Results with EHR
The results in clinical efficiency were immediately apparent. In the first four months after
athenaClinicals and athenaCollector were implemented, The Urology Group increased
their scheduled appointments by 8%. This is in striking contrast to the fact that many
practices implementing traditional EHRs report significant work slowdowns of 10-15%.
However, it wasn't just clinical efficiency that impressed Dr. Gubin.
"While we fully realized our need for a better EHR, we hadn't appreciated just how
much of a positive impact athenaCollector would have on our ability to get paid quickly
and correctly for the care we deliver," he says. "Our practice income has increased
significantly because of it." The practice saw a 28% reduction in DAR* after just three
months with athenahealth, and collections per claim increased 8% practice-wide from
2008 to 2010.
"The amazing thing is that two people in our billing office handle all of the income for
this busy, four-doctor practice. Most practices this size without athenaCollector would
need 4 to 5 people to handle our level of income!" The group's collections per work RVU
increased 7% practice-wide from 2008 to 2010.
Fran Parker, who works in the group on insurance and medical billing, appreciates
athenahealth's handling of the four Pay-for-Performance programs in which the practice
participates. "I love that athenahealth takes that off my hands. It frees me up to do a lot
of other tasks."
Dr. Gubin identifies athenahealth's cloud-based rules engine as a key to the system's
success. "It continually—and at no extra charge to us—updates rapidly changing
insurance payment rules."
One particular advantage of a cloud-based, integrated system for their practice, says
Dr. Gubin, is that physicians are now able to access the clinical software on handheld
devices to record charges for out-of-office procedures such as surgical cases and
hospital consults. "We can initiate a claim for
reimbursement even before they leave the
hospital&mash;an important first step toward getting those payments faster."
Paperwork Bottleneck a Thing of the Past
athenaClinicals, athenahealth's cloud-based EHR service, has proven to be equally
popular—and effective—within the practice. One of the features that The Urology
Group enjoys most is that athenahealth assumes responsibility for handling the
majority of the paperwork related to patient medical records.
"Previously, at any given time, about half of our staff was involved in some aspect
of tracking down or handling patient records. They were pulling and re-filing
the records and reviewing every record-related fax, document, and e-mail—prescription requests and renewals, lab reports, and physician referral letters. Then
they had to put the documents in the patient's record for action or information."
Now these tasks are handled by the experts at athenahealth. "The opportunity
that athenaClinicals gives you to step out from under the tremendous amount of
paperwork that practices have to process each day is unparalleled. Paperwork was
a major time hog for us—and it would have been disastrous with new Medicare
regulations! Now, we're nearly paperless. It saves our practice an enormous
amount of time and money."
Another cost-saver is the fact athenahealth, not the practice, hosts and maintains
the shared software platform centrally in "the cloud"—and upgrades it free of
charge continually. As a result, the practice's costs for hardware, maintenance,
upgrades, and technical assistance have decreased dramatically.
Looking to the Future
The Urology Group's latest addition is athenaCommunicator, athenahealth's on-demand,
automated, and live patient communication service. Using athenaCommunicator's
patient web portal, the practice can now enable patients to request appointments,
review and pay bills, complete or update medical forms, find health information,
and exchange messages with doctors.
"One of the ways that athenaCommuncator will save us time is with test results.
There are a lot of routine test results—negatives, for instance—that need to be
communicated to patients. athenaCommunicator will save us a lot time, because it
will take care of all that for us."
Dr. Gubin wholeheartedly recommends athenahealth to other practices: "Ask
yourself: Are you getting paid quickly and accurately for the services your practice
provides? Are you maximizing efficiency and lowering costs at every point in the
process? athenahealth has made such a positive difference in the efficiency and
the profitability of our practice that we haven't looked back."
Perhaps that's because The Urology Group is too busy moving forward.
* These results reflect the experience of this particular practice and are not necessarily what every athenahealth
client should expect. athenahealth clients see an average 9.2% increase in collections based on a weighted average
for athenahealth clients with valid pre-athenahealth benchmark data that had their 15-month anniversary with
athenahealth during 2009.