Friday, April 23, 2010

EHR Bargains Review – Office Ally

(Survival Tips for Small Practices)

Most of us know Office Ally as a free clearinghouse for medical claims processing. Over time Office Ally has consistently added web based services to their original claim processing offering. First came Office Mate, a Practice Management System, then came Patient Ally, a Personal Health Record and now we have the Office Ally EHR. Since most offerings are completely FREE to physicians, I thought this would be a good time to review the Office Ally option for a cash strapped small practice attempting to go electronic and qualify for government incentives.

The Concept of FREE

Unlike most other FREE products on the market, the Office Ally model is very easy to understand. Office Ally’s revenue stream comes from its clearinghouse operations and originates with payers. All clearinghouses receive transactional payments from insurers and in addition they also charge monthly fees from submitters. Office Ally is forgoing the submitter fees, which average about $100 per provider/per month, for electronic claims, electronic remittance and eligibility checks.

Office Ally’s web based services do not require lengthy contracts. You use it if you like and you stop using it if you don’t. Most “free” clearinghouse services require that you outsource your billing and pay between 5% and 8% of net collections. Office Ally does not offer an outsourced billing service and you may continue to do your billing in house. As far as I can tell, the products are not ad supported, so you will not see Diabetes Wonder Drug ads every time you access a chart with a documented ICD-9 of 250.00. Since the products are web based, your data will be residing at the vendor data centers. I have not seen a public statement on Office Ally’s policy regarding their use of deidentified patient data collected from their customers. This should be clarified before you sign up for the service.

Office Ally EHR

The new Office Ally EHR is web based and has the ability to integrate a certified electronic prescribing solution from NewCrop. The EHR is not free. The subscription fee is $29.95 per provider/per month. You can cancel the contract with a 30 days’ notice and get your data exported for a flat fee of $39.95. The electronic prescribing module runs at $30.99 per provider/per month for the full service as required for Meaningful Use. This brings the total package monthly cost to $60.94 per provider. This comes to about half the price of Amazing Charts, the Gold standard for affordable EHR solutions. To be sure the Office Ally EHR does not include advanced functionality like clinical decision support, order sets, quality reporting, lab interfaces and other advanced features available to the CCHIT certified Amazing Charts users. These features will be required for government incentives. It is possible that Office Ally will be adding features and eventually will be applying for Meaningful Use certification, but at this point in time there are no expressed guarantees and I would expect the current subscription fees to increase for a fully certified product.

Practice Mate

Practice Mate is a typical Practice Management System with registration, scheduling and billing management functionality. It is free to clearinghouse users. While lacking bells and whistles functionality, Practice Mate should serve a small practice well enough. There is a phone reminders service that can be added for a volume based fee.

Patient Ally

The patient portal, or PHR, is completely free and integrates directly into the Practice Mate and the new EHR. It has the basic functionality found in most patient portals, such as secure patient communications, refill requests, appointment requests, viewing results, etc.

Office Ally Billing Clearinghouse

This is the original flagship service offering. It is free for providers submitting more than 50% of their claims to commercial payers (not Medicare/Medicaid). Otherwise, there is a flat fee of $19.95 per provider per month. The clearinghouse is in wide use and the payer list, while not covering 100% of payers, is steadily growing. The clearinghouse can be, and is, used in conjunction with other EHR/PMS software, through direct access by paper based offices or as part of the entire suite of Office Ally suite of products.

Bottom Line

The Office Ally EHR is the most recent addition to a historically billing focused company, probably in an effort to offer the client base a path to achieving Meaningful Use, while creating a new revenue stream for Office Ally. All in all, the EHR is very basic and will need to quickly add a host of feature/functionality in order to certify for Meaningful Use. The price point is very attractive for a small practice and so is the completely web based model. From what I could see, the EHR software is as clear and simple as the older Office Ally minimalistic modules. This is good news for a practice trying to save money on training and implementation.

If the EHR becomes Meaningful Use certified, while maintaining the lean look & feel and a price point well below $100 per provider/per month for an entire integrated suite of clinical and business products, I would rate it as a definite Best Buy. Right now I would say it is definitely worth adding to a small practice short list of products to review.

07/18/2011 Update: Office Ally EHR is certified as a Complete EHR by an ONC-ATCB for 2011-2012. It is also CCHIT 2011 pre-market certified. Last week Office Ally announced that its "full suite of office support tools for healthcare providers is now compatible with all Apple products, including MAC computers and iPads".

Next Review: Amazing Charts

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