Office Automation Levels Playing Field for Independent Practitioners

BrianONeillBy Brian O’Neill

It is getting increasingly difficult for independent physicians or smaller medical groups to compete nowadays. The evolution of large medical groups through merger or acquisition, coupled with the proliferation of hospital-owned practices, has put smaller practices at a decided disadvantage in everything from negotiating rates with payers to marketing for new patients.

Before we start to call the sole practitioner an endangered species, there is at least one area where individual physicians still can compete on equal footing: office automation. While this may come as a surprise to some who believe that only larger practices have the dollars necessary to transition from paper to digital, the reality is that many user-friendly and highly customizable options are now available to physicians at little or no cost. And that’s good news for everyone because integrating electronic technology into any size practice leads to greater efficiency and enhanced patient satisfaction, two things that are critically important to any size practice.

The time has never been better for physicians to update their practices through automation. The smart use of technology eliminates duplicate paperwork, increases productivity, improves cash flow, and alleviates endless hours spent completing forms and formatting treatment plans for each patient’s insurance provider or government payer. Best of all working with the right partners can make implementation of new technologies easier than ever and consign such issues as cost and complexity to a thing of the past. But physicians must be smart in what they do and how they do it. That means leveraging office automation in such key areas as:

Electronic health records – Electronic health records (EHR) have the potential to improve quality, safety, efficiencies and access. Today EHR systems are available for as little as $29.95 a month with minimal start-up costs. Many of these systems work with a practice’s existing computer system – both Microsoft and Apple products – thus minimizing the cost even further. To maximize performance and revenue potential, providers should seek an EHR vendor who has been certified for stage II of “meaningful use,” meaning that the technology improves patient-care coordination, reduces healthcare disparities, engages patients and their families, improves population and public health, and ensures adequate privacy and security.

Clinical messaging – Through electronic clinical messaging, physicians can be notified in real time and at point of care of which clinical procedures are most advantageous to the patient. These messages can come from outside sources such as health plans, TPAs, IPAs, ACOs or HIEs or can be generated internally based on a payer’s business protocols. This can be a real plus for the independent physician who sometimes feels as if working in a silo. Studies have shown that such real-time messaging significantly improves quality of care and allows for better disease management outcomes, resulting in fewer hospitalizations and reducing serious medical errors.

Online patient interaction – In today’s technology-reliant society, patients should have the ability to schedule, cancel or change appointments online as well as request medication refills, view lab results, and keep track of their entire medical history. And just as physicians increasingly embrace EHR, it is only natural that patients would want secure, easy access to this information as well so they can help monitor their own health, ask the right questions, and make better-informed healthcare decisions.

Web-based clearinghouse – The right clearinghouse can increase cash flow, lower accounts receivables, and assure that providers receive the full reimbursement to which they are entitled for the services they provide. In addition to pre-screening for errors in information transmitted from providers to payers, a clearinghouse helps with claims processing because a clearinghouse compiles claims information in a format that is actionable and easy to understand. Ideally providers should look for a clearinghouse that is capable of managing every aspect of the revenue cycle including claims management, eligibility and electronic remittance advice.

For many – including smaller practices particularly worried about cost, training and disruption – all of this may sound a bit daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. Physicians can become much more efficient and responsive to their patients by turning to smart technology to make their practices run smoother. The good news is that automating an office today is more affordable than ever in terms of both initial cost as well as ongoing commitment. And when the time and expenses saved through efficiencies are considered, more practices are recognizing meaningful savings and financial rewards by letting technology do the work.

Brian O’Neill is the chief executive officer of Office Ally, which works with more than 330,000 providers and 5,600 insurance carriers and is the only organization in the country offering healthcare providers a full suite of revenue-cycle management services. www.officeally.com

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