Point & Click for Better Business

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Computers have become a way life in the business world and no where is this more evident than in the field of home medical equipment (HME). Web sites, the Internet and computer software are generating new and efficient ways for HME providers to better serve their clientele.

By utilizing educational resources and management software available to them, providers can more readily assist their customers in selecting and maintaining proper equipment for specific disease states or conditions.

HME providers must meet the needs of their customers while following the standards and guidelines set forth by health maintenance organizations (HMOs), insurance companies and the policies of government agencies such as the Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA) and Durable Medical Equipment Regional Carriers (DMERC).

Many companies, realizing the everchanging demands of policy and procedure, have designed software that eases the jobs of HME providers.

Easy and Efficient

HME providers face the difficult task of identifying patients' needs, providing a product to fit those needs and helping them get fitted with it. Sometimes, payment procedures and policies are not at the top of the priority list.

"To be honest ... their primary concern is not necessarily getting paid, and that's where we come in," said Rick Long, president, Team DME!, Nashville, Tenn.

Providers are often inundated with paperwork that cannot be put aside and software programs help to ensure an efficient flow through the system.

Certificates of medical necessity (CMNs) are a vital piece of paperwork that guarantees patients will receive the right piece of equipment within medical guidelines while meeting government standards.

Providers fill out portions of the CMNs and send them off to the physician who returns it with proper medical documentation. Software such as Team DME!'s program tracks when CMNs have been sent to the doctor and then automatically submits them along with the HCFA form to ensure payment once received back into the system with physician's authorization.

Lost paperwork can mean the difference between profit or loss for many HME providers. Software automation can help prevent lost claims or CMNs while inherent Medicare billing codes make sure claims are submitted correctly, which saves time and money.

"Basically what we're talking about is time savings. When (providers) send claims off electronically, Medicare will return an electronic response and our system can take that file and automatically apply payments to claims that were previously sent off," said Long.

Business Management

Software programs not only provide easy and efficient claim submission and tracking, but also help providers manage their businesses.

Fastrack Healthcare Systems, Plainview, N.Y., has a software program that supports order entry, billing, maintenance and inventory control.

Software programs not only provide easy and efficient claim submission and tracking, but also help providers manage their businesses.

"It's a complete operational system," said Spencer Kay, president.

Noble Direct for Windows files claims, prints HCFA forms, does repeat billing and autocheck posting and utilizes inventory control as its main module.

Providers must constantly track equipment and maintenance. It is important for them to know at all times what equipment they have and if they need to order more.

"They want to track maintenance of rental equipment so they can go perform the regular required maintenance," said Lisa Stone, vice-president of operations, Noble House, Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Maintenance tracking can also help providers determine from which manufacturers they would like to order equipment.

"(Tracking) helps them determine overall costs by showing them how much maintenance a particular piece of equipment required," said Long.

Growing Market

Software manufacturers, realizing technology changes at a rapid pace, are designing their programs with more flexibility.

"Our software has the ability to connect other software products so (providers) can take advantage of some of the new technologies," said Kay.

Providers can utilize bar coding which enhances the inventory process and makes it faster for them to verify current inventory and any shortages in their orders.

Mapping systems can route trucks to make business deliveries and maintenance calls more efficient.

The Internet is becoming a major tool for business owners because it is fast and easy and gives immediate results.

"We also have an Internet service where clients can access the service so they don't have the upfront cost of setting up a system," said Kay.

Noble House has a Web site where providers can get live updates via the Internet, which is part of their complete package.

Training and Results

With new software programs and business management comes some education so manufacturers often include training as part of a complete package.

"Our program only requires three hours of training and it is done over the phone," said Stone.

Other companies utilize conference calls but also provide on-site training designed around the various modules a program may include.

While software can help providers save time and money, it can also help them monitor the quality of their business practices.

Health Care Data Systems is a software that is a data collection tool, which measures performance.

The Internet is becoming a major tool for business owners because it is fast and easy and gives immediate results.

"HME providers send us data and we compare and benchmark that against other information," said William Rogers, marketing director, Health Care Data Inc., Encinitis, Calif.

The software tracks unscheduled assistance and equipment malfunctions. This information is collected and sent back to the provider to let them know about the quality of education they are giving their customers.

"If they've taught the patients how to use the equipment well, they shouldn't need that (amount) of unscheduled maintenance," said Rogers.

Providers' Needs

Since some companies and business are smaller than others, it is difficult for software manufacturers to meet the needs of all HME providers.

Some businesses may want a program to have payroll capabilities while others feel it is more important to track accounts receivables and payables.

Wheelchair House of North Colorado, Fort Collins, Colo., utilizes order entry and claim printing because it ultimately saves time and money.

"You don't have to type or write it out," said Curt Ambroso, accountant.

A daily journal and ledger module would allow providers to track sales and cost of operation on a daily basis to help pin point trouble spots before they become a real problem.

Ary Van Harlingen, president, Shaw Ott Medical, Mansfield, Ohio, said he would like to see a program with journal and ledger capabilities to monitor his business more closely.

"I want to know what's happening on a day-to-day basis ... not just once a year when I see my accountant," he said.

Some providers are simply grateful for the reduction in paper shuffling.

"Our new software will allow us to provide documentation on the printed sales receipt without having to manually input all the information," said Sheila, Showlater, office manager, Criticare Home Health Services, Lawrence, Kan.

Providers also have to meet certain government guidelines and software can help them maintain good records.

"Our software lets us know when patients are coming up for recertification. It's a real helpful tool to help manage within the Medicare guidelines," said Showlater.

Computer software, Web sites and the Internet can help HME providers maintain proper business practices by tracking merchandise, printing HCFA forms, submitting claims and other business management options.

With the everchanging government guidelines and the different needs of patients, HME providers must utilize everything they can to run an efficient and productive business.

Patient Software
Home medical equipment providers utilize software to manage their businesses, however as technology changes and grows, and more and more people are using the Internet, patients with chronic conditions like diabetes can also take advantage of software to help manage their illnesses.

LifeScan Inc., Milipitas, Calif., features the In Touch software program to accompany its glucometers for managing diabetes. Launched in August 1995, the Windows-based In Touch program is designed to work either in a health care office with multiple patients or in the home for a single user.

Glucometers are used as testing devices for people with diabetes. Patients place a drop of blood on a test strip, and after a few seconds the meter reports a sugar level that indicates if the patient needs to make insulin or food modifications for balanced sugar control.

All of LifeScan Inc.'s meters have downloading capabilities. Users test blood glucose and then using an interface cable, the meter transfers patients' readings from the glucometer to the computer. There are ten different report formats including an on-screen log book similar to the written logs patients have needed to maintain in the past.

"A large percentage of health care professionals are recommending that all meters have download capability," said Kathy Ewing, product manager.

Users point, click and choose from the menu how they would like to view information. The software can produce line or pie graphs, which can give patients a longitudinal look at their sugar levels to help determine problem areas and see trends in high or low sugar levels.
Patients can print out the reports for their physicians or personal records.

"Sometimes after meals sugars could run higher and this lets (patients) make adjustments to their diet, exercise or insulin levels," said Ewing. In Touch also allows for personal modifications of information such as carbohydrate intake which can help pinpoint problem areas as well.

According to Ewing, the software helps patients who do data management stay more compliant because they will test more frequently. "It really empowers the patient," she said.
Since diabetic patients may only see their physicians once a month or once a quarter, the software allows more self-management in the home.

LifeScan Inc. hopes to expand on its current market by allowing the software to be downloaded from its Web site, www.lifescan.com.

"I think it's an area that's going to continue to grow," said Ewing.

Whitfield is assistant editor for Home Health Products.

This article originally appeared in the July 2000 issue of HME Business.

About the Authors

David Drab serves as a principal of information and content security services for Xerox Global Services, where he develops security technologies for a wide range of customers.

Dr. Patrick J. Sullivan, a soil chemist and partner in Forensic Management Associates Inc., a company in San Mateo, Calif. that provides litigation support and expert witness services related to environmental disputes.


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