Plugging into HME IT
Who could have guessed there would come a time when terms like "electronic document exchange" and "Web-based functionality" would come tripping off providers’ tongues almost as frequently as acronyms like "DMERC" and "HCPCS"? Welcome to a new day in the home medical equipment industry, one in which information technology (IT) is as important to providers’ bottom lines as offering the latest products.
Advances in IT tailored for HME have also brought another word into providers’ business lexicon: automation. And according to some experts, to boost productivity and profit in the competitive market to come, providers won’t be successful without it.
"While manual processes do work, irrespective of the size of the company, all providers have to embrace technology in one way, shape or form," says Jeff Frankel, president of Trac Medical Solutions, Schenectady, N.Y. The company markets CareCert, an Internet-based system for processing CMNs online. "Technology is synonymous with greater efficiencies, which are synonymous with greater profitability, and with greater profitability you’ll have better care being provided.
"The industry has tried to squeeze as much cost out of procuring product as we possibly can," Frankel continues. "You can try to extend the life of a concentrator ... but you can only go so far with that before you have to start looking for other avenues to managing your business more effectively. That’s where IT comes in."
Factor in the administrative simplification mandated by HIPAA and federal reimbursement cuts set out by the Medicare Modernization Act, and providers are being pushed to automate their operations, according to Weyman Perry, vice president, sales and marketing, for Duluth, Ga.-based Fidelis Software, which developed the Brightree online application.
"The types of things that were ‘nice to have’ are becoming ‘must haves’ with the increasing price pressure from programs like Medicare and Medicaid," Perry says. "Personnel costs—workflow efficiency and accuracy—are one of the areas [with the] greatest potential to squeeze out additional productivity gains, thereby allowing a business to remain profitable in the face of reimbursement cuts.
"In addition," Perry points out, "having the data available to analyze critical issues like payer and product line profitability are becoming necessary for culling out unprofitable portions of a business."
Jim Clark, president of Miami-based SoftAid, which offers inventory-management software as well as a Web-based business management program, suggests looking at the benefits of technology in terms of both hard and soft costs. "Hard costs are things like increasing revenue and decreasing costs. On the revenue side, especially in health care, you look at things like proper billing or reduced denials. Technology can help on the expense side with labor costs, [which is] the biggest cost in most companies, across industries. If your staff works more efficiently, you can reduce labor costs.
"Soft benefits, on the other hand, are the peace of mind of knowing that your systems and records are secure, having a more manageable workflow and workday, working in a more organized manner and knowing you’re in compliance with government regulations," Clark says. But, he explains, "there are no tangible dollar figures you can attach to [these benefits, though] it is generally a major benefit to improve efficiencies in your business or personal life."
Functionality to Fit
A myriad of process management tools are available to HME companies today. Along with the patient-management, billing and inventory-control functions that providers have come to expect from a business package, today’s HME IT applications also offer capabilities including:
Collection data. Memphis-based RemitData, for instance, uses electronic remittance devices to collect payment data from health care providers and to provide productivity enhancements, sorting transactions by the reasons they were denied or from highest to lowest dollar. "This lets providers pinpoint what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong, and gives the staff the ability to go after things that will bring in the most money in the shortest time," explains CEO Bentley Goodwin.