Healthcare Business News

Practice-management system vendors launch trade group

By Joseph Conn
Posted: August 12, 2014 - 2:30 pm ET

The Healthcare Administrative Technology Association, a not-for-profit trade group for developers of software systems used by office-based physicians to keep patient accounts and track claims, opened for business Monday. The group hopes to answer what some see as a need for an industry voice for practice-management software vendors.

The organization will start with seven member firms but hopes to reach 100 to 150 members by the end of the year.

“For too long, the PMS market system had not been heard,” said Tim McMullen, a lawyer and executive director for the Cooperative Exchange, an association of claims clearinghouses. “I testified at a number of NCVHS (National Committee for Vital and Health Statistics) hearings and the committee always says the one player that we don't have at this table is the practice management developers.” The association is “going to fill that void,” he said.

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Seven PMS developers—eMDs, HealthPac, Medinformatix, PracticeAdmin, MDSynergy, AdvancedMD and NextGen Healthcare—will be involved initially, McMullen said.

Co-organizer Brad Lund, the executive director of the Healthcare Billing & Management Association, said the idea for a trade group to represent the practice-management systems sector came out of a meeting he had last year with Devin Jopp, president and CEO of the Workgroup for Electronic Data Exchange.

In recent years, finger-pointing has become the norm in the healthcare information technology industry as deadlines to adopt new tech standards have either passed or pushed back.

From the troubled Jan. 1, 2012 upgrade to the ASC X12 Version 5010 electronic claims processing standards to this year's rollback of the deadline for the switch to ICD-10 codes, the need for delaying the updates has been blamed at least in part on vendors of electronic health-record systems and physician practice-management systems, who, it was alleged, could not deliver their upgraded products on time.

Developers of EHRs have the Electronic Health Records Association, an affiliate of the Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, to answer such charges.

Developers of practice-management systems, however, had no such group.

Lund, said he ran the PMS association concept past health IT industry leaders such as Dr. Farzad Mostashari when he was still head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and Robert Tennant, senior policy adviser for the Medical Group Management Association, with favorable responses. Lund heads the International Society & Association Management, a Laguna Beach-based company that provides administrative services to not-for-profit organizations.

“When we've had issues, for example ICD-10, we tried to reach those vendors,” Tennant said. “But there is no natural avenue” to reach them, “so, it's long overdue and a much needed voice in the industry.”

At a conference last fall, Lund invited a group of PMS vendors to a side session to hear his pitch.

“They had a vey strong interest,” Lund said. “It's a very competitive industry. The idea of them coming together in a very collegial way seemed to be as important as them being separate.”

The leaders of each of the founding member companies have committed to calling and inviting 10 to 15 of their peers to join, Lund said.

Ana Croxton, vice president of EDI products and services for NextGen, said she foresees the association providing both an external and an internal benefit for its members.

Externally, HATA will be able to augment the testing and certification program from WEDI and EHNAC, which she expects “will cover the basics, like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.” On the other hand, HATA can say, if you're looking at a type of practice management system for a medical specialty, like radiology, “you need to look for A, Band C.” Providing customized market information “will be a help to the industry and providers,” she said.

Internally, Croxton said, “Things are changing very rapidly in the reimbursement areas and it would be nice to have our position represented,” she said. “Because so much of our product development is to meet government regulations, why not help each other?”

Organizing practice-management system developers, a diverse lot, has been impractical, said Vincent Hudson, head of Jewson Enterprises, a Dunedin, Fla.,-based health IT market research and consultant.

“Right now, in my database, I have something over 600 vendors,” Hudson said. They split an estimated $11 billion in revenues, he said. Almost 80% of that revenue was generated by the top 100 vendors, he said. “The rest of that is small mom and pops.”

Further complicating things, he said, many of the mid-sized and larger firms distribute their practice-management systems through value-added resellers, middlemen that sell, install and support the developers' products.

“The VARs are a major distribution channel for most of the vendors,” Hudson said. “There are very few vendors doing direct selling.”

Ironically, the VARs formed the Association of Independent Medical Software Value Added Resellers about a decade, to get leverage with developers, Hudson said.

In March, WEDI and the Electronic Healthcare Network Accreditation Commission announced they were developing a program to test and accredit practice-management systems, with HATA planning to collaborate in that effort.

Helping practice-management systems developers provide input into the design of that testing program could provide developers with a rationale to join HATA, Hudson said.

“The blessed hand of God will be put on them and they'll go out and say, 'We've been certified and blessed and don't buy anything else,'” Hudson said.

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn

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