A Pandemic Fast Pivot

CPSI’s telemedicine software give-away may stretch into 2021

Boyd Douglas, CEO of CPSI, (back to camera) and chief growth officer David Dye strategize about company plans. Photos by Brad McPherson

Covid-19 struck with lightning speed but so did an unusual and altruistic response from CPSI, a Mobile-based medical practice management software company that works mostly with rural hospitals in the United States.

In a press release dated March 30 — a rapid response when you consider that many people didn’t even take the virus seriously until mid-March — CPSI announced it would give away Talk With Your Doc, a telehealth product developed by its subsidiary Get Real Health.

Early on, people suspected of having Covid-19 were urged not to go to the hospital, for fear they would infect others. Testing was the preferred first step, but most places lacked testing capability. Even people suffering critical episodes, such as heart attack symptoms, were hesitant to go to medical facilities.

Talk With Your Doc allows patients to have a virtual visit with their physician and talk about their symptoms. The doctor and the patient can then decide together if it is necessary for the patient to come into the hospital. The software also helps with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, offering a safer option for patients who need frequent checkups.

Doctors connect with patients through an easy-to-use online portal that doesn’t require a complex technical setup. Not only can patients video chat with their healthcare providers, they can also share health records, vital signs (such as blood pressure, heart rate and temperature readings), trigger alerts to their doctors and even get pre-screened for Covid-19.

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Doctors see more patients, providing much-needed ongoing and off-premise care. Business-wise, it’s a plus for the medical profession, because visits are reimbursable thanks to Covid-necessitated changes in regulations.

“This is about much more than just talking with patients remotely,” says Boyd Douglas, president and CEO of CPSI — formally Computer Programs & Systems Inc. — which became a public company in 2002. “This innovative solution is keeping healthcare services flowing in a way that truly delivers excellent medical care, while maintaining vital
revenue streams healthcare providers need to survive during this difficult time and beyond.”

David Dye

David Dye, a 30-year veteran with CPSI who serves as the company’s chief growth officer, says CPSI was in a unique position to know how badly rural hospitals were hurting.

Rural hospitals often run on razor-thin margins and can quickly face their doors closing for good when revenue streams dry up. As the pandemic grew, mid-April or so, volumes at CPSI’s client hospitals were down 45 percent on average, in terms of what they were able to bill for net revenue any given day. By late June, revenue was down only 15 percent. No one is sure when complete recovery will arrive.

“We wanted to help customers, and we wanted to do something quickly, and the good news for us was that we were already working on video capability on Android and Apple, so all we did was accelerate that development and add things to work with our software,” Dye says. “As of now, 1,200 doctors are utilizing the application in 195 facilities, mostly in the U.S.”

The problem was dire enough that even Uncle Sam recognized it. Through its Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal government expressed support for emergency-driven telehealth by quickly approving new codes for reimbursement.

“The big question is whether telehealth is a fad or is here to stay. Logical arguments can be made both ways,” Dye says. “Many things can be done now over the phone or video, and the doctor can call in prescriptions and suggest strategies, but certain things still have to happen in the office.”

As with many public health decisions in the United States, insurance companies will get at least their share of the vote. Telehealth won’t stay around after the pandemic passes unless insurance companies agree to pay for it. “I could see it going either way,” Dye says.

As for what CPSI gets for their gesture, estimated to be worth millions of dollars in free software, it’s a matter of positioning in the ruthlessly competitive medical management industry.

“Our benefit is that we’re in it for the long game, in many cases having decades-long relationships with customers,” Dye says. “We’ve got a solid balance sheet, so even if we don’t make money for 36 months, we’re thinking about this long term. We want to promote good will with customers, be their partner and sell services that make them money.”

Talk With Your Doc, usually sold on a per-user, per-month basis, will be free for the remainder of 2020 and possibly beyond, Dye says. “We’ll start charging again maybe in January, maybe later in the year, when volumes are back up at hospitals and they’re in a better position to pay for it.”

CPSI: Covid-19 in Microcosm

Even Mobile residents probably aren’t as aware of the latest developments at CPSI, which in recent years has split into several divisions. The company also has seen its share of pandemic-related changes since mid-March.

CPSI’s core mission over its 40-year history has been providing a system of electronic health records (EHR) and service solutions for hospitals in rural settings, as well as nursing homes and physician offices.

CPSI is the parent of four companies:

Evident LLC, the core business, provides comprehensive EHR solutions for community hospitals and their affiliated clinics. Evident has 800 sites, including some in Canada and the Caribbean.

American HealthTech is one of the nation’s largest providers of EHR solutions and services for post-acute care facilities, typically nursing homes and senior living centers. Based in Jackson, Mississippi, it serves 2,800 nursing homes.

TruBridge focuses on providing business, consulting and managed IT services, along with its complete revenue cycle management solutions for all care settings. The company can do a hospital’s entire business operation or just help in specific areas, like medical records coding or billing and collections.

Get Real Health, which produced Talk With Your Doc, focuses on solutions aimed at improving patient engagement for individuals and healthcare providers. This segment of medical care delivery is expected to grow exponentially in the next 10 years.

David Dye, CPSI’s chief growth officer, says TruBridge, broken into a subsidiary in 2014, now produces about 40 percent of the company’s revenue, at $105 million to $110 million a year.

The company has 2,000 employees and, before Covid-19, 500 typically had worked from home. Some employees are now returning to the office but “we’ll never get back to 1,500 again in the office.”

As for its roots in South Alabama, Dye says the company is well pleased with Mobile. “There is no crystal ball — we’re a public company — but the thought of leaving Mobile has never entered our minds. We’re proud Mobilians. It’s easy to find a talented workforce here. Mobile has a strong health care base.”

Dave Helms and Brad McPherson are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Helms is based in Daphne and McPherson in Mobile.

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