From the inception of his practice in 1973, Dr. Elihu Sussman has had an office staff of one — his wife, Geraldine, who serves as the practice’s secretary and office manager. As the sole provider, Dr. Sussman maintained all patient medical records by hand, and Mrs. Sussman handled scheduling and billing. As computers came on the market in the mid-1980’s, Dr. Sussman grew interested in how this technology could assist his office, particularly on the practice management side, and began incorporating rudimentary billing software programs into his practice. By the mid-1990’s, however, as managed care and its accompanying billing procedures came to the forefront of primary medicine, Dr. Sussman’s billing software was not keeping up, leaving Mrs. Sussman with the task of filling out pile after pile of HCFA forms by hand. It was then that Sussman realized he would need a more advanced computer program that could handle the complexities of third-party billing.
Dr. Sussman viewed demos of a number of programs available at the time and found that “nothing fit the bill.” When a friend referred him in 1996 to Fred Pytlak, developer of a DOS-based program called Visual Data, he requested a demo and was immediately impressed by the program’s capabilities. He also appreciated its flexibility, as it allowed him to use the features he wanted without “taking over” the rest of his practice. With this in mind, Sussman purchased the software and initially used it only for billing tasks, such as recording and printing patient statements. But, as the program evolved into the Windows-based program ‘Office Practicum,’ Sussman’s use of the program grew, “incrementally”, beyond billing and into other areas of his practice. Now, Sussman not only raves about “slick” features like the VacLogic vaccine algorithm and the “seamless” integration of the EHR and practice management aspects of his practice, he also frequently demos these features to other physicians.
Adapting to Office Practicum:
Dr. Sussman is still selective about the features of Office Practicum that he uses — he sticks to free narative notes, and uses the program’s automated features mostly for immunization records, school forms, and billing. However, he enjoys having the ability to choose which features to use, and adapt the software to his practice, rather than the other way around. “It’s a very flexible system,” he says. “There’s enough space in the system to allow me the freedom to do what I want. It’s not confining if you want to do things a different way.” And as Office Practicum has developed alongside Sussman’s practice, he has never felt impeded by changes in the program. “All the new features haven’t interfered with what we do as a solo practice,” he says. “Office Practicum has allowed us to maintain the same [standards of] quality we always have… it’s enhanced, but not altered, our practice.”
Using Office Practicum:
As one of the pioneer users of Office Practicum, Dr. Sussman has watched the program grow and has also gotten to know the developers well. He has long been impressed, he says, by how Pytlak and his team were always “ahead of the curve” and prepared for regional or industry-wide changes affecting pediatric practices, such as mandatory submission to vaccine registries in New York and other cities, and the AMA’s restructuring of vaccine codes to accomodate the new H1N1 vaccine in 2009. Fred and his team are “always anticipating what the changing requirements are, what mandates from government agencies are coming, and [working to] incorporate the appropriate fixes and add-ons,” Sussman says. These fixes are often worked out so well in advance that once a certain procedure is actually mandated, it already runs “smooth as silk” in Office Practicum.