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Christus Provider Network

Both mission and margin thrive for 150-year-old health network


CHRISTUS, a rapidly growing Catholic nonprofit health care system made up of 300 providers and 72 practices, was facing major financial stability challenges in 2011. After losing its entire revenue cycle management team, they partnered with athenahealth—ultimately resulting in a $10 million per year reduction in expenses, an increase in collection per encounter from $65 to $90, and a decrease in DAR from 48 to 33.5 days.



  • Located in Dallas, TX
  • More than 300 providers
  • 72 locations
  • Multi-specialty providers
  • 160,000 patients
  • 35,000 patient visits per year


  • Coordinating 72 offices in two states and continually bringing new practices online
  • Handling huge, disruptive HQ move that impacted collections
  • Staying true to nonprofit service mission while remaining financially stable



  • Able to efficiently manage newly added practices that are geographically dispersed
  • Despite loss of revenue cycle team in move, decreased DAR by 26%* in first year
  • Able to increase impact and quality of mission while keeping costs under control
Both mission and margin thrive for 150-year-old health network

The precursor of CHRISTUS Physician Group in Texas was a hospital founded in the mid-1800s to provide health care for all people in need, regardless of circumstance. A century and a half later, CHRISTUS is a rapidly growing nonprofit Catholic health care system that comprises more than 300 total providers from 72 practices in Texas and Louisiana. But the mission—to see and treat every patient regardless of their ability to pay—remains the same. athenahealth is a key to the organization’s ability to maintain and expand that mission while thriving financially.

“We are very serious about [our mission], very dedicated to it, and we have to have the means to execute on that mission,” says Dr. Peter Plantes, Chief Physician Executive and Chief Executive Officer. “We have the right tools with athenahealth for that mission, because it can go anywhere that we can connect on the Internet to support our health care ministries.”

Bob Karl, Chief Financial Officer, sums it up this way: “We operate 72 clinics in two different states with a multitude of payer contracts. We operate both primary care and a multitude of subspecialties. And for us to be able to get in one location the information that we need [about] accounts receivable, payer enrollment, credentialing issues, how the EMR is working for our physicians, [means] we can take our limited resources—given the fact that we are a not for profit—and apply them to the most urgent need quickly. That is the success that comes with athenahealth.”
A financial turnaround leads to a new beginning

In 2011, CHRISTUS faced a tremendous challenge to its financial stability. “Losses were accelerating and we needed to make some changes,” says Karl, who was brought in with Dr. Plantes to help navigate the financial turnaround and ultimately rebuild the organization. “It was a tumultuous time for us.”

Compounding its financial issues, the organization moved its headquarters from Houston to Dallas. In the move, CHRISTUS lost more than 70% of its staff—including its entire revenue cycle management team. This combination of difficult challenges could have caused a downward spiral for the health network, but CHRISTUS was able to get back on track by partnering with athenahealth.

“athenahealth was there for us the entire time,” says Karl. “So, even as we had to replace every accounts receivable rep, my revenue cycle director, and my management team, we were able to rely on athenahealth to help provide the consistency in service that we needed to keep the cash flow coming in the door.”

Further, since implementing athenahealth’s cloud-based services, Karl says, “we’ve been able to shave off over 10 million dollars a year in some of the expenses that we were incurring and made major renegotiations with some of our largest vendors. At the end of the day we can provide a better experience for both our patients and our physicians.”

The results speak for themselves: patient collections have increased from $65 per encounter to nearly $90 per encounter. Its days in accounts receivable has decreased from 48 days to 33.5 days, meaning CHRISTUS is able to generate more revenue faster.
Financial stability leads to continued growth

Once the transition crisis was past, CHRISTUS could look to the future. Today, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, they are advising a 100-physician practice on ways to work effectively in a large city with just one hospital. In Santiago, Chile, CHRISTUS has taken on the operational leadership of an 800-physician academic subspecialty medical practice—a kind of tertiary care hospital. In addition, CHRISTUS is continually adding individual physicians and practices to their own system.

“Our real focus right now is what we’re going to grow and develop into,” says Dr. Plantes. “I believe that we’re destined to be as large as anything that I’ve seen in terms of a 1000-physician practice, but the complexity of doing it in multiple places has really been the challenge. There are different rules in different places, so that is why athenahealth has been just perfect for us. We’re able to use it as a strategic backbone with all these markets.” By leveraging athenahealth’s complete services for EMR, practice management, and care coordination, CHRISTUS is able to onboard new physicians and practices quickly and immediately begin getting insights into whether they’re operating effectively or not.

Dr. Plantes says that “athenahealth brings the data together in ways that we can represent it and bring that knowledge to the physicians, giving them accurate measures and data as they navigate their way from where they’ve been to where they need to be.”
Flexible services keep them one step ahead of change

In addition to managing growth, CHRISTUS, like other health systems, must navigate a steady stream of industry challenges, such as adapting to ICD-10, the multiple stages of Meaningful Use, and new care and payment models. CHRISTUS is confident that, with athenahealth’s partnership, they’ll be able to take on whatever challenges arise.

“The ability to rely on athenahealth for ICD-10 and to know that it will be in place—I can’t tell you how much relief that provides me as a CFO,” says Karl. “We definitely get a lot of Meaningful Use dollars, and we’re tracking that in athenahealth, too.” Dr. Plantes adds, “I am very confident about CHRISTUS’s position to use the assets it already has and link them into the new models and the new designs of care into the future.”

© March 2014

* Our clients see an average 6% increase in collections and 32% decrease in days in accounts receivable. This average is based on a weighted average for athenahealth clients with valid pre-athenahealth benchmark data that had their 15-month anniversary with athenahealth between January 1, 2010, and October 31, 2013.

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