3-minute case study: A family-owned and -operated practice goes from surviving to thriving
July 5, 2023
Across the athenahealth network, healthcare organizations are implementing technology solutions to support their growth goals and improve the staff, clinician, and patient experience. Here’s one of them.
Practicing medicine in a rural setting often comes with many challenges — everything from caring for a population that’s usually older, sicker, and lower-income than their urban counterparts, to finding and retaining administrative talent. But what’s the challenge when a rural practice experiences rapid growth?
When family nurse practitioner and owner Ashley Tupper opened Hometown Medical Clinic in rural Wyoming, her goal was to not just survive, but thrive. But as the practice grew rapidly during the pandemic, the administrative burden grew in parallel, and so did the number of employees needed on payroll to keep up. “At first we were just surviving, trying to figure out how we were going to handle everything,” she said.
The growing complexity was a lot to manage for the small clinic, and Tupper knew they needed to make some big changes, starting with a new EHR and a larger office. “Our practice had grown very quickly out of the space we were in,” Tupper explained. “Before we moved locations, we wanted to switch medical record systems, too, because we had truly grown out of the one we were using.”
Hometown Medical Clinic was looking for an EHR that would not only scale to support their growth but also provide administrative support and relief on everything from streamlining refill requests to managing the revenue cycle.
Billing at the practice was complicated, with a mix of commercial, direct, and occupational health billing all under one roof. “We were concerned we wouldn’t be able to find an EHR that could handle all of that and athenaOne really, really could,” said Tupper. “We were interested right out of the gate with the revenue cycle management and billing process.”
With their previous EHR, Hometown Medical Clinic had worked with a local billing company that checked in frequently via phone calls and quarterly meetings. Tupper says that after switching to athenahealth’s extended revenue cycle service, Enhanced Claim Resolution, there was no longer a need for frequent meetings with the company. “We realized all of the burden was removed from our plate,” Tupper explained. “A lot of those meetings weren’t necessary because everything is now handled clearly in the workflow dashboard, where we can look daily and see what’s in our queue and what we need to address.”
Chief operating officer Michael Tupper — Ashley’s husband — agrees that athenahealth has given them a deeper level of visibility into their revenue cycle performance and financial health. “athena makes it easier to find everything I’m looking for, and when you follow the suggested best practices, it really helps you know what you should be looking out for,” said Mike. “That’s the best tool for an overwhelmed practice that’s getting started.”
In addition to the revenue cycle management support, athenaOne’s streamlined workflows have decreased the practice’s administrative burden, Ashley reports. Tasks like messaging with patients and fulfilling refill requests are much less time-consuming now. “Having athena just be one screen that you’re navigating through is something you don’t realize when you’re in a different system with all the clicks and navigating,” said Tupper. “The time with a lot of those workflows is simply significantly less.”
Using athenaTelehealth has been another added benefit, offering the clinic a more efficient telehealth solution to help reach and care for patients in the rural setting. The practice serves a big ranching community, and there are several rodeo families that benefit from having access to telehealth visits when they’re on the road. Having telehealth integrated directly within athenaOne makes it easy to use for both Tupper and her patients. “After switching to athenaTelehealth, the technical difficulties with the telehealth platform are essentially gone,” said Tupper. “We’re seeing a lot of telehealth in our practice, so that’s been wonderful.”
Hometown Medical Clinic has seen significant improvements in its financial health, which Tupper attributes to “the turnaround of charting.” That turnaround was especially clear when the practice moved to a new office location in 2022. “We had to close everything for a week, and I had about 300 charts in the missing slips basket,” said Tupper. “I was able to close 300 charts in three days because of how streamlined and easy charting is with athena, and it took athena just two days to get through those 300 charts. The turnaround time is just unreal for us.”
With its extended revenue cycle services, the volume of work athenaOne has taken off the clinic’s plate enabled the practice to thrive even when their staffing significantly decreased due to attrition. “During a time when staffing became difficult during the peak of COVID, it allowed us to decrease our staffing from 11 to six and still have the same, if not more, revenue as we did with 11 people on our payroll,” said Tupper.
She adds that the efficient workflows in athenaOne also freed up time for her remaining staff to focus on other tasks. “There was a lot of work that is now feasible for just one or two people to manage, which is wonderful,” said Tupper. As a result, Hometown is now able to offer more extensive services in the office, including lab and occupational health resources.
Tupper attributes much of their success — from the onboarding process to the office move to their current stability — to the practice’s partnership with their athenahealth Customer Success Manager. “It’s been truly invaluable to have that support along the way,” she said. Most importantly, Ashley and Michael say, learning about how to run their business has empowered them to feel independent. “For our smaller practice, having that independence in our own business has been so meaningful,” said Ashley.