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Dr. Jon Elion, the founder of Chartwise Medical Systems Inc., is no stranger to combining medical needs with entrepreneurial success. Elion co-founded Heartlab Inc., in 1994, a pioneering cardiac-imaging management firm, helping to grow the company from two to more than 200 employees before selling it in 2005 to Agfa Healthcare.
In 2009, he brought together a team of former Heartlab employees to create Chartwise, a new business providing comprehensive software applications for clinical hospitals and health care providers. The new software tool enables hospitals and providers to capture, clarify and ultimately report out the full clinical picture of a patient encounter, something that helps the health care provider to be paid accurately for the services rendered, as well as protect the provider against possible fraud prosecution.
“We have 15 employees, all of whom worked with me at Heartlab,” Elion said. “We’re getting the band back together. And, because we all know and trust each other, we can just jump right to the arguing,” he said, referring to the collaborative process.
In 2010, ChartWise brought its first product to market, Chartwise:CDI, a Web-based software application that improves the completeness and precision of the medical documentation of a patient in a hospital setting. “Our very first customer, a hospital system in Kentucky, saved $50,000 in its first week using the application – and more than a $1 million in its first year,” Elion said. The savings come from better documentation of the work of physicians and other medical staff.
“If your physicians don’t document it, it didn’t happen” in the eyes of payers, he said. And the health care provider won’t be paid on services that aren’t recognized due to poor documentation. The market for clinical-documentation products is worth half a billion dollars a year, Elion estimates, with 4,200 inpatient acute-care hospitals in the United States.
To speed the adoption of his company’s new software product, Elion has targeted providers’ clinical-documentation-improvement staff – the health-information manager and the chief financial officer. Beyond online marketing and targeted trade shows, along with a traditional direct-sales team, Chartwise provides a free version of the software for the managers to get a feel for product. The message to the information manager touts the reporting efficiencies; for the financial manager, the focus is on aggregated reporting and return on investment.
To date, Chartwise has three installed sites and expects fiscal year 2011 revenue of about $100,000. In addition, Elion has what he terms a very promising pipeline, with “more than 60 active sales leads.”
A hospital system with more than 100 hospitals, he continued, choosing his words very carefully, because the deal has not been finalized, “has selected us as a vendor.”
In addition to the current issue of not being paid enough for services rendered, health care providers are looking at changing reimbursement requirements for Medicare, which is moving away from the volume-based fee-for-service model to an outcomes-based model. In the future providers will get paid not for how many patients they see, but for the quality of the medical outcomes achieved. And, documentation and analysis of services will be key in maximizing revenue.
This change, according to Elion, makes it even more important to employ a software system that can accurately record and document physicians’ work. Because, with the new rules under Medicare, making a mistake in an audit can be very costly, with treble damages, according to Elion. “Better to have a $1 million reduction in reimbursements than a $3 million penalty, because of wrong analysis of data,” he said.
Elion positions himself as “the set- up guy, the one who conveys the passion, and answers any detailed questions.” But, when it comes to sales negotiations, he depends on his salespeople – who are the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 salespeople who were with him at Heartlab.
Elion is also very clear about where the credit for wining the business-excellence award belongs. “I didn’t win this; Chartwise won this. It’s a group effort and team effort, and every member of the company deserves the credit and praise in winning this award,” he said.
That inclusiveness is reflected in the innovative benefits package provide to ChartWise employees: every employee is granted options upon hire and as part of the annual review process, to ensure that there is a sense of ownership in the organization and a dedication to success.
In describing the atmosphere at ChartWise, Executive Vice President Mary Cooper said the company strives to strike a balance between “a casual workplace that is also leading edge in both technology and engineering philosophy, and a learning organization.”
ChartWise incorporates continuous improvement at every level of the organization, whether to smooth out bumps in its programming process, improve its customer acquisition and support, or perfect its sales and marketing efforts.
At the same time, Chartwise sees itself as an evolving organization. The small core staff operates in a very flat structure, with loosely defined job roles. Everyone wears many hats – and often trade them. As a result, everyone in the company has a chance to learn from one another, to enhance his or her job skills, and to be part of decision-making, according to Cooper.
As the company grows and matures, there is a commitment to always look first to its employees for advancement opportunities, because they are already deeply aligned with Chartwise’s culture and mission, Cooper said.
Perhaps the biggest problem the company faces is the learning curve at hospitals, according to Elion. “Many health-information managers at hospitals don’t understand the power of what software can do with data analytics, cloud-based storage, and an artificial intelligence component; they are still working Excel spread sheets.”
When ChartWise does a demonstration, he continued, it opens their eyes. “Their jaw drops, and they say: ‘Oh my God! I didn’t know you could do that!’ It’s like selling Crayola crayons [with their multiple colors] to people who have been living in a black-and-white world.” •