When Dr. Amber Shamburger founded her own obstetrics and gynecology practice, Friendswood Women, in 2010, she was looking for a healthcare technology partner that would help her get her business off the ground and provide continuous support as her practice grew — and the industry around her changed. As she researched her options, she observed that many “were basically just software that was going to cost a lot money for upgrades or hardware that we had to buy, and servers, and all of that.”
When she learned about athenahealth, Shamburger thought, “This is so much more than a software company. This will actually help me manage some of the day-to-day activities that happen in a practice. And so, when I was opening my practice, I chose athena because by my calculations, it saved me one-and-a-half employees when I first opened.”
In the years since, Friendswood Women has grown from one provider to four providers in two locations. Throughout that time, Shamburger has looked to athenahealth’s electronic health record, patient engagement, and revenue cycle management services to help her practice thrive clinically and financially.
An EHR that meets the needs of OB/GYN providers
One key requirement for Shamburger in an EHR was the ability to easily share clinical information with the hospitals where her patients will give birth. “The fact that when I print out my prenatals, it looks exactly like the old school ACOG form that they’ve been used to reading for years means they’ve never had any issues interpreting my prenatals. And I can send them electronically through athena, without having to actually print something out and go to the fax machine. I just hit a button and send it to labor and deliver, and it’s easy.” The functionality is made possible through partner Dorsata, a member of the athenahealth Marketplace, which offers third-party solutions that have pre-built connections to the athenaNet application.
When she’s at the hospital, Shamburger has easy access to her own documentation, since her medical records are cloud-based. If a nurse asks a question to which she can’t recall the answer, “I can easily just log in and pull up the entire chart and get the answer for them within minutes,” she says.
Shamburger’s satisfied that her EHR meets her needs, even though the hospital she works with uses a different system. “I sit in the doctors’ lounge at the hospital and hear doctors gripe all the time about how horrible their EHR system is. I don’t have any major concerns with my EHR. It’s one thing that I actually don’t have to worry about, ever,” she says.
Getting paid with less work
When it comes to getting paid, Friendswood Women aims to collect full payment, promptly, while minimizing administrative work for the practice’s one billing employee. That employee saves valuable time thanks to athenahealth’s Billing Rules Engine, which scrubs claims before they’re submitted and applies intelligence gathered from claim activity of more than 120,000 providers on the athenahealth network. “She doesn’t have to waste a lot of time messing with claims on the back end, because our claims go out so clean,” says Shamburger. In fact, nearly 98 percent of Friendswood Women’s claims are resolved the first time. If a claim is denied, athenahealth will manage it on behalf of the practice.
The practice’s claims get paid quickly, too, with an average of 18 days in accounts receivable. “Most of our claims get paid the first time, so we’re not leaving a lot of money on the table,” Shamburger notes.
Self-pay has been one of the top five payers for Friendswood Women since its beginning, so staff apply athenahealth’s best practices to make sure patients are aware of their financial obligations and have multiple options to pay them. This includes discussing payment or setting up payment plans ahead of time, as well as allowing patients to pay their co-pay before the appointment when they check in online. “We work so hard to make sure patients know what to expect to pay,” says Dr. Shamburger, “and we collect beforehand.”
A better experience for patients
Friendswood Women also encourages patients to use athenahealth’s patient portal to communicate with their providers and staff. “Patients love the fact that it feels to them like they have a direct line to their doctor. If they log into their patient portal and send a message, it’s immediately routed to the correct person.” If providers need to weigh in, it’s easy for staff to forward a message to the provider’s inbox to get additional input, or the provider can respond to the patient directly. “It makes it so easy to pass these messages around, in the patient’s own words,” says Shamburger, in contrast to phone messages that can be misinterpreted through word of mouth. “Our patients really love it. Sometimes they just send us nice little messages, like, ‘You guys are awesome.’”
Overcoming the obstacles to stay independent
Partnering with athenahealth helps Friendswood Women maintain the independence Shamburger values. She credits athenahealth with helping her practice keep up with changing requirements to get paid, from Meaningful Use to Medicare requirements. “It makes it so much easier to run a practice, not having any training in how to run a business. It really takes a huge burden off my mind.”
Shamburger also finds the support she and her staff need on the everyday issues. When she hears peers complain about customer service from other healthcare IT vendors, Shamburger says, “I’m always surprised to hear their stories, because we haven’t had any issues with customer service. I talk to somebody in Maine, and they just pick up right away, and they route the call exactly to the department it needs to go to.”
Friendswood Women has even weathered natural disasters with athenahealth. When Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in 2017, the practice was fortunate to be using a cloud-based service. “Harvey totally flooded my office,” recalls Shamburger. “We lost everything, countertop down, so if we had had servers or medical paper records, that would all be gone. But because we were cloudbased, we didn’t lose any records. We literally just picked up our laptops, and we got moved out of that office and set up into another one.” The practice was seeing patients again within a week, and in the meantime, it was able to communicate with patients through the patient portal when providers and staff couldn’t get to the office.
Shamburger has been approached before about becoming an employed physician at the hospital at which she delivers, but despite the challenges, she prefers to keep Friendswood Women independent. “I really like the way I run my practice,” she says. “We have found a little niche that we can live in, and I think our patients appreciate that we really cater to them.”
This is so much more than a software company. This will actually help me manage some of the day-to-day activities that happen in a practice.
— Dr. Amber Shamburger, owner, Friendswood Women