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Docs see money faster with automation

Full-practice automation seems to pay off for many small physician offices, but others who choose only select areas to convert are feeling the positive financial effects as well.

Kurt Kastendieck, MD, a family practitioner in Sante Fe, N.M., is in the process of automating his practice and finds his e-prescribing tool to be particularly useful.

“It works well,” he said. “Things like refill communications are automatically sent back. It saves an amazing amount of time.”

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The e-prescribing program came with Kastendieck’s EHR, which he installed two years ago. He also bills through the system.

Larger pharmacies are better equipped for e-prescribing, but not many smaller pharmacies are, Kastendieck said. Some still take prescriptions by phone or fax.

The e-prescribing tool calculates and produces a 24-hour turnaround bill through the clearinghouse and on to the insurance company. Kastendieck said reimbursement now averages two weeks from a patient’s visit.

Automation, such as e-prescribing, helps improve a doctor’s quality of life, said Kastendieck. one doesn’t need a complete EHR, only Internet access.

Theresa Dickson, who manages her husband’s solo general surgery practice in Dennison, Texas, says electronic billing technology brings the money in quicker, even without an EHR.

“The few practices I know of out there that paper bill their claims simply budget the practice to allow for the 45 day delay in payment as opposed to 20-30 days that we experience,” she said.

Dickson said many IT companies say an EHR will save money because physicians will need less room to store charts. However, Dickson says the monthly fees for the use of an EHR often outweighs the cost of hard copy storage.

“I have seen monthly fees of $500 to $1,500 a month for one doctor,” she said. “We are not being reimbursed by our major carriers enough to offset that cost. In our particular community, real estate is relatively inexpensive, so for me personally it would cost me less to store charts.”

James Selenke, a family practitioner based in Hudson and Reinbeck, Iowa, fully automated his practice with an EHR and e-prescribing system.

He said that he is amazed at where people get numbers for cost of EHRS – to many it seems to be a tremendous amount of money, but other than hardware, which cost him $16,000 in 2004, he is only paying $870 per month to service two physicians on the EHR.

“Cost was a major factor,” said Selenke. “The fees are good for my size practice.”