How integrated technology can drive private practice success

Over the past few years, there are few trends that have affected the world of practice management more than hospital employment. The numbers are substantial, with some reports predicting that up to two-thirds of U.S. physicians will be employed within the next year or so.

As we reported last month, however, the market is starting to see a small but fierce uprising of physicians who have determined the tradeoffs that come with working for others are too great and therefore bought their independent practices back.

Lee Peter Bee, D.O., is one doctor who has made this decision and not looked back. It's been three years since he left the critical access hospital he and many of his colleagues worked for and opened Southern Illinois Medical Specialists, LLC, and the practice has been and stayed profitable since day one.

I had the chance to speak with Bee about his story, and in particular how the practice's use of integrated technology has contributed to its success. His rural internal medicine clinic draws patients from a 200-mile radius, with some people driving from Missouri and Indiana to see him. "I have no idea why," he told me. But that was shortly after describing his decidedly anti-bean-counting practice philosophy: "Taking care of patients takes as long as it takes. We don't care about time or the patient's pocketbook; we care about quality of care."

Because his practice casts such a wide geographic net, it allows Bee to maintain a healthy payer mix and serve a patient population that's about 80 percent privately insured. The practice never turns a patient away for financial reasons, he said. The patients who have great insurance help him afford to accept installment plans from those less fortunate (many of whom might refer friends or family with better coverage).

"To make sure we can take care of this wide variety of patients and that they have access to us, we are heavily invested in technology," Bee said.

But by "heavily invested," he doesn't necessarily mean financially. Most of the products Bee uses in his practice are "inexpensive, off-the-shelf solutions." He recommends this approach to other practices not just for the cost savings, but also because these products tend to work more intuitively, making it faster and easier to train employees and patients to use them. Other important factors are to choose products that meet one's practice needs, he said, and that meet requirements for Meaningful Use and reporting on quality measures.

Here is a sampling of the types of solutions Bee has integrated into his practice that help boost efficiency, patient access and profitability:

  • Dual monitors--By simply placing two monitors at every work station, clinicians are able to view two pages of a patient's electronic health record (EHR) at once, saving time by not having to flip between screens.
  • EHRs--Bee uses a free EHR system with mobile access, which allows him to view patients' records and even ePrescribe on the go.
  • Virtual visits--In addition to his traditional clinic patients, Bee uses HIPAA-compliant virtual consultation technology to care for another 687 (at last count) patients from all over the world. He also offers his traditional patients access to virtual visits should they need care while traveling.
  • Voice-recognition software--Bee dictates all of his notes in front of patients during their visits, a practice with several benefits. Not only does the speech-recognition technology save typing time, but it also makes it easy to ensure patients leave the office knowing Bee's precise findings and expectations. And patients' office notes are done before they leave the office.
  • Electronic faxing--Using an electronic faxing system not only makes it easier for the practice to keep up with faxes than it would be with a traditional machine, but it also gives the entire team easy mobile access. Bee has his e-fax system integrated with his smart watch as well. Prompt notifications of faxes allow Bee to intervene, when necessary, sometimes even before staff can print the communication and place it on his desk.

This is not a complete list of the technologies Bee uses in his practice, but it gives a solid idea of how the pieces of the technology can fit together for a progressive practice with old-fashioned values. To learn more, you can see Bee speak in person at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Osteopathic Association of Medicine medical informatics program. This will be his fourth time sharing his insights at the conference. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)

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