Vendors tout Web-based systems

Sunday, June 30, 2002

DULUTH, Georgia - Although HME providers typically work their software systems until the code falls apart at the seams, a new breed of software system vendor is trying to convince the industry that a Web-based system is worth the price of conversion.

Bright Tree, a new Web-based HME operations and billing program developed by Fidelis Software, is one of the first applications in the industry to use browser-based language instead of the longstanding DOS and Unix codes. Another vendor, Altamonte Springs, Florida-based iNetClaims, introduced a Web-based HME billing program in 1999.

Employing the recently introduced Microsoft.NET Web platform, Fidelis'Bright Tree is designed to effectively integrate HME applications while allowing users to access the system from remote locations. And because it's Web-based, the costs to providers is low, says Fidelis CEO Jerry Knight.

"The platform we've built on is a capital saver, money saver, cash saver," he said. "There is no hardware to buy, no software to load or maintain and those who have access to the Internet can use our application because it resides in their own machines. We have created an architecture that allows for multi-site aggregation of branches that all access the system."

Providers pay only a monthly subscription fee to participate. Once connected, users can access their data from any location with a portal.

"The tether of the desktop is eliminated," he said.

Given the risk-averse mentality of the HME industry, software vendors say providers'acceptance of Web-based systems may initially be slow. But once early adopters relate their experiences, the Web rush will be on, says Steve Walterhouse, product manager for iNetClaims.

"It won't be a movement - it will be a revolution," he said.

iNetClaims is offering providers a 30-day tryout period as an extra incentive. The software company offers a money-back guarantee on the product, which Walterhouse says no one has asked for to date.

"It's less than $1,000 to get on board with us," he said. "And you can be entering claims in a day."

The connectivity aspect of the Web is what intrigued Cathy Battreall, who is currently beta testing the Bright Tree system. The senior vice president of Coral Medical in Islamorada, Fl., says she clung to her old legacy system for as long as possible. When the business expanded to five sites, its antiquity became painfully obvious.

"Our system wasn't designed for multiple sites," she said. "So each branch had to dial in to a dummy terminal at the main office - which made for a tediously slow connection and very expensive phone bill."

What's more, the low-tech, low-memory, outmoded system didn't have the capability to calculate billing modifiers, so that function had to be done by hand, she said. Logistics became convoluted because orders had to be created manually, faxed to the central office for insurance verification then faxed back to the local branch for delivery.

"Employee turnover is very high in the Florida Keys," Battreall said. "Fortunately, we have a tremendously loyal billing staff. Operating this hybrid system required a uniquely specialized skill set, making it

disruptive whenever someone on the billing staff left the company."

However, it is the upcoming HIPAA patient security regulations that she credits as being the catalyst for her system change. "HIPAA was the final straw," she said. HME