To hear Michael Penna tell it, the computerization of the modern doctor’s office has been a slow revolution.
But the management-software company he founded in Palmer a decade ago, Complete Health Care Solutions, has been riding that gradual wave every step of the way — and realizing strong growth all the while.
“In the past, practice management and clinical management have been separate entities — offices would use one company for billing and another for medical records,” Penna, the company’s president, said. At the same time, physicians, particularly the older generation, have been slower to incorporate computerized medical record-keeping into their practices than they have for electronic billing.
It all translates into fertile ground for Penna as computers become a more crucial component of doctors’ offices.
“Our focus is on patient flow management, which includes billing, prescription management, and medical records. We create a customized plan to meet all their needs,” he said.
By allowing customers to purchase products a-la-carte or in value-bundled packages, Penna explained, Complete Health Care Solutions (CHS) is able to provide a better fit for physicians.
In effect, he considers every physician client a business partner — and he’s gaining more of those partners all the time.
Penna had a background in medical-office software before launching his own company, but he had a different vision than his previous employer.
“I was working for a competitor in the industry and realized that there was a need for a company that would take software and massage it to the practice’s needs,” Penna said. “The way we had done it before was, ‘this is my system; this is the way you use it; now give me $30,000.”
So he founded Complete Health Care Solutions with the goal of giving practices a comprehensive, interactive suite of applications tailored to their specific needs.
Fortunately for Penna, the need for a more personalized approach began to increase in the mid-’90s with a trend away from physicians’ groups and toward independent practices. “Doctors weren’t prepared to spent $35,000 to $40,000 on a management suite,” he said. Penna used his expertise to gather various software pieces and assemble them for clients.
“It was less expensive to buy, and they saw it as one system. Since we started doing that, we haven’t stopped growing.”
As a testament to that growth, today, the company boasts 31 employees and serves more than 5,000 doctors. In 2003, it placed fifth in the revenue-growth category in the Super 60 Awards given annually by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.
CHS offers a number of software products, including Lytec Medical, a practice-management information system; Just Notes for electronic medical records; OnCall for medication management; and AppointmentCall, which contacts pat-ients about upcoming appointments automatically by phone. All these products are designed to increase efficiency and allow doctors more time to focus on patient care and personal service.
To succeed, however, Complete Health Care Solutions needs more than solid products, Penna said. And that’s where personal service comes in.
“We provide on-site training,” he said, as opposed to companies that employ services such as WebEx, an online conferencing technology. “That might be cheaper, but clients learn better, and the quality of training is better, when it’s face to face.”
Penna credits that focus on service with helping the company earn industry awards in most years of its existence. NDC Health awarded Complete Health Care Solutions with its VAR of the Year award, given to the best value-added retailer based on service, support, and sales; CHS bested some 500 other companies to earn the honor.
Even with the strides CHS has made over the past decade, there’s still plenty of room to grow, Penna said. Doctors have been slow to computerize the clinical side of their practices, and many are coming off negative experiences. Many software providers, for instance, were venture capital-funded, and when the return on investment wasn’t there, they didn’t survive.
“We’re seeing more educated doctors who have been through the pain with other people,” he said. “We’re choosing our partners carefully, and we’re using well-known products that have been around a long time.”
And what CHS is seeing is a willingness by many younger doctors to embrace this kind of technology in a way the previous generation has not.
“Let’s face it — each year, doctors graduate and go into practice,” Penna said. “And these doctors have lived with technology all their lives, all through school. They’re all carrying PDAs around and using cell phones to take pictures, and when they go into practice, they’re saying, ‘what do you mean, I have to write out charts from 5 to 7 each night?’ They want everything set up for them.”
Even practices that have gone electronic in the past are finding that their platforms might not be upgradable, he added. That opens up more opportunities for Complete Health Care Solutions, which can assemble an upgradable system for such an office. “It’s a win-win for a company like mine,” he said, “because my company has all the pieces of the pie.”
And now CHS is adding more pieces. It recently acquired an Akron, Ohio-based firm that has a billing service with about 35 clients. That’s a service that Penna’s company will now be able to offer to its customers. “Doctors who don’t want to do business in house can take advantage of this.”
With endorsements from the Mass. Medical Society and companies such as DrFirst, which distributes electronic-prescribing software, Complete Health Care Solutions seems well-positioned to ride the computer revolution in doctors’ offices as it continues to gain speed.