A compassionate approach to care enhances reimbursement and patient workflows

Case Study | CenterPlace Health

  • ILLO_Medical-office-Teal_DGT_2

    Federally Qualified Health Center

  • ILLO-laptop_phone_DGT

    Offers comprehensive primary care, plus specialty and dental services

  • Glob and purple location pin

    Seven locations across Sarasota County, FL

  • Female Dr and male nurse

    38 providers & 86K annual patient visits


  • Lack of standard operating procedure between sites
  • New billing department
  • Few opportunities to measure key performance indicators


  • athenaOne®
  • athenahealth Advisory Services


  • Greater visibility into key financial metrics, FQHC requirements and guidelines
  • Enhanced employee engagement and better collaboration across departments
  • Increased time-of-service copay collection by 124%
  • 42% increase in patient visits

A Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) operating across seven locations, CenterPlace Health provides care to thousands of patients in Sarasota County, FL. Its mission — “to provide efficient and effective delivery of quality, affordable health services to a diverse population in a compassionate and caring manner” — is at the heart of all services CenterPlace provides. While the staff at CenterPlace does collect patient balances, no one is turned away due to an inability to pay.

When Crystal Wolfe began her role as Revenue Cycle Director at CenterPlace, she was challenged with improving workflows across all seven clinics and expediting return on reimbursement — all while reinforcing this compassionate, accessible approach to patient services.

“We started from the ground up,” Wolfe recalled. “I was the first Revenue Cycle Director they had on staff. We didn’t really have anybody working in the billing department at the time, and on my second day, the athenahealth Advisory Services team was onsite to help out.”

A hands-on partner

After implementing athenaOne, CenterPlace engaged athenahealth’s Advisory Services team, comprised of strategic consultants with deep industry expertise, to help analyze data and identify improvements within the revenue cycle process. The Advisory Services team joined Wolfe onsite at each clinic to observe the workflows at the front end of the revenue cycle, which begins the moment a patient is entered into the system — when scheduling an appointment. Together, they monitored everything, from the call center to the patient service operations team, to identify where the most attention was needed. “It was a week-long project, and it was informative for me to get a whole picture of how things were going,” Wolfe noted.

What they learned was that every team operated differently, from one clinic to the next. Based on their analysis, CenterPlace leaned on the Advisory Services team to roll out training for its employees across all locations. The training wasn’t drawn up from a strategic playbook; it was created as a custom project plan centered on upholding CenterPlace’s core values, meeting patient needs, improving workflows, and working as a team to give staff the confidence needed to do their jobs to the greatest ability.

Approaching patient collections with compassion

“In partnership with athenahealth’s Advisory Services team, one thing that we developed and rolled out to our patient service operations team was a script, because the conversation of asking patients for money can be a very personal and sensitive topic,” Wolfe remarked, noting that collections help CenterPlace keep its doors open and serve its mission of providing Sarasota County with affordable and accessible services.

A series of scripts were developed for various scenarios — including if a patient has an outstanding balance, if the patient has a copay, and if the patient is qualified for a sliding fee scale — and also outlined how to ask for that payment. By supporting and empowering the patient service operations team to confidently explain payment plans or to help connect patients with insurance, CenterPlace has helped alleviate stress for patients concerned about how they will pay their medical bills.

The shift in patient communications also lets patients know that CenterPlace is here to help them. With an emphasis on training, these scripts allow the team to approach patients, who might otherwise be hesitant to seek care, with compassion and understanding. “Because we are able to reach out and communicate with our patients — letting them know that we're here for them and that there are options — they continue to come in and receive their care, knowing we are here to work with them,” Wolfe said. “They don't have that barrier to care.”

As a result, CenterPlace has seen a nearly 42% increase in visit volume over the past 12 months.

Greater insights to fuel the mission

In addition to training, the partnership with athenahealth allowed CenterPlace leadership to identify areas that were bogging down its teams, leading to enhanced employee engagement — an essential component of staff retention. FQHC leaders across the nation recently indicated that staff recruitment and retention is their top FQHC strategic imperative, yet even as Wolfe’s team has grown, she feels like “she still needs more.”

As a team, CenterPlace aimed to increase employee engagement to ultimately ensure everyone could focus on what matters most: providing care to the community. Working with athenahealth’s proprietary rules engine, including built-in FQHC-specific billing guidelines — the revenue cycle staff saves time by avoiding missing fields, drastically reducing the number of rejected claims. athenahealth also simplifies UDS data capture and reporting, allowing staff to regularly monitor and manage key performance indicators to stay on top of local, state, and federal requirements with fewer staff resources.  

The CenterPlace leadership team has turned to reports within athenaOne to brief board members, working alongside finance. With the help of athenahealth's performance reviews and Insights Dashboards, CenterPlace's leadership team now has more visibility into key financial metrics — including a more than 124%1 increase in time-of-service copay collections over the past 12 months.  

“We have a weekly leadership meeting,” Wolfe said. “Our CEO will send us emails, showing us screenshots from the reports. And you can see the bar trending in the right direction. And she's really excited about it. We share it with our teams, and we all get excited about it. It means we’re funding the organization to serve our mission in the community.”

One shared goal

CenterPlace has found that they are best able to serve their mission when its internal teams — patient service operations, call center, billing, and leadership — all work together to align in service to the patients. Utilizing athenaOne, departments are now able to collaborate as one team to not only improve collections, but also motivate staff to work at the top of their licenses and abilities, all striving toward the goal of serving their patients and community. “With athenahealth, we have been able to train, empower, encourage, and give our teams the confidence to do their jobs, and to serve our community, to the gratest ability,” Wolfe said. 

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These results reflect the experience of one particular organization and are not necessarily what every athenahealth customer should expect.

1. Based on athenahealth data June 2023