HIT Firms Introduces PracticeSmart
In the life of most health information technology companies, there is what Phil Suiter calls “natural growth levels.” At the apex of those levels, growth stalls. The first occasion for a hiccup is usually at $1 million, then at about $4 million, $10 million, $25 million and $40 million. “To break those barriers, organizations have to change,” he said.
Call Suiter a change agent. In April, he was hired as president and CEO of Brentwood-based digiChart Inc. “digiChart has been bouncing around $10 million for quite some time and couldn’t seem to get to the next level,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Well-known in healthcare-industry circles in Nashville, Suiter has founded or led a number of healthcare businesses, including Gordian Health Solutions, Stinger Medical, NotifyMD, Medical Properties of America and Vivra Specialty Partners. He was president and CEO of Transaction Tracking Technologies when he made the move to digiChart. His career also includes stints in leadership positions at Vanderbilt University.
Over the last decade, Suiter has found himself involved in the “turnaround field,” he explained, stepping in to set companies on a new path and then exiting himself once the hurdle is scaled. With digiChart, however, that’s not the case. Suiter’s job at digiChart is not so much a turnaround as it is a “strategic repositioning,” he said. “That’s truly what I like to do.” Suiter added that — because of digiChart’s strong financial backers, high-level board members and the potential of the company’s business plan — he just might want to stick around for a while. “I have tracked this company closely for years,” he said. In fact, Suiter has over the years considered buying the company.
digiChart’s roots go back to the mid-1990s and HIT developed under the auspices of Vanderbilt University for the allergy, asthma and pulmonology industry. Early leadership included Harry Jacobson, who retired as Vanderbilt vice chancellor of Health Affairs in 2009. Jacobson and Vanderbilt remain digiChart investors, along with MedCare Investment Funds, based in San Antonio.
In 1999, digiChart hired G. William Bates, an obstetrician-gynecologist, to lead the company, and Bates shifted the focus of the firm to the development of HIT for OB-GYN practices. It was a good move, and the company introduced one of the first electronic health records in the OB-GYN field. A practice management system (PMS), basically for patient scheduling and billing, for OB-GYN practices followed. Today, 1,300 OB-GYNs in 43 states use digiChart software, and that number is expected to rise with the recent introduction of PracticeSmart, which combines the EHR and PMS into one cohesive system. “The beauty of this is that it uses the same database,” Suiter explained. “It’s a significant differentiator, even though it’s subtle.”
digiChart is in the process of rolling out PracticeSmart, and Suiter said it will give the company a leg up on the competition. “In the OB-GYN space, people are trying to get in. Most of the competitors have an electronic medical record that, in its basic form, will work for the practice. The same for the practice management system,” he said. “Where the adoption is difficult is that most of those systems are installed, and then the doctors have to tweak them to match their workflow. What we’ve done is spend 12 years understanding the workflow and making our system match how an OB-GYN practices.”
Suiter acknowledged that the roll out of PracticeSmart is a component in his strategic repositioning of the company, but there’s more. During the third quarter of this year, expect digiChart to introduce HIT systems focused on family practice and pediatrics. “We believe family practice and pediatrics are a subset of what we’ve already done. We have to capture everything about the baby before the baby’s born, and we capture everything about the baby post-partum. We know a whole lot about that baby, and the clinical information is effectively the same,” Suiter said.
Meanwhile, Bates is being used to his full advantage to grow the list of PracticeSmart users. “He’s talking to OB-GYN physicians peer-to-peer,” Suiter said. “I can talk to them until I’m blue in the face; but put him in from of them, and this magic thing happens.”
With these growth strategies in place, Suiter believes digiChart will be ready when market shifts present opportunities. He predicted that the next three years would see smaller companies in the space consolidating, while the big players such as Cerner, McKesson, General Electric, Epic and athenahealth will be on the lookout for unique vendors to fill out their product sets. “My sense is, borne out of a lot of years just being in this business. When consolidation comes, you ride it to the top of the wave; and then you see what best opportunities are out there, and you make yourself available to that. That’s probably what we’ll do.”
Meanwhile, digiChart’s products are certified by the Certification Commission on Health Information Technology and the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT, meaning users are taking their first steps toward monetary rewards from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services because the technology meets “meaningful use” standards. “That’s a great ‘Good Housekeeping Seal’ for us,” Suiter said.