Smart app simplifies mobile billing for specialists

By Rosie Lombardi

Jeremy-ThealBillings can be a major administrative headache for specialist doctors who rove around different hospitals and clinics to see their patients. Most carry paper billing cards with quick handwritten scribbles to identify the patient, procedure, and other data, and then have to spend hours re-entering it all and processing their billings on their home office systems. A powerful new app called Agent+ can eliminate this chore and process billings in seconds on the fly. Recently launched by Toronto-based Plexus Interactive, the app was developed and tested by physicians, and is infused with the intelligence and bullet-proof security needed to make it work effectively.

The company was started up last year to fill a void, says Plexus Interactive’s president Dr. Jeremy Theal (pictured), a gastroenterologist and chief medical information officer at North York General Hospital. “We see that the mobile healthcare market is really expanding. Physicians need more mobile tools, but not many are designed by physicians. The unique aspect of Plexus is to involve physicians directly at the ground level in deciding what solutions to develop and how they should look, feel and work.”

The Agent+ app has been designed to speed up all aspects of billing without compromising security or robustness, says Theal. For example, the app is optimized for each medical specialty area.

“We’ve created a super-efficient interface that is customized for each different specialty. The way that the app works for a gastroenterologist is different than how it works for an endocrinologist. The most important OHIP codes for each specialty are already pre-populated so that physicians don’t have to look anything up.”

Agent+ also ensures patient information is accurate and up-to-date. “We’ve taken away the pain of entering patient data manually because we’ve enabled the smart phone camera to read the patient label on the hospital chart using optical character recognition. Agent+ also has a wireless link with the Ministry of Health and it verifies the health card information in real time, ensuring that all of the patient demographics exactly match what’s in the Ministry’s database.”

The app also takes care of a critical issue for busy doctors: forgetting or overlooking services they should be billing. “The intelligence of a human billing agent is built into the app, so it makes intelligent suggestions to you about things you might have forgotten to bill, such as premiums, or extra codes.”

Agent+ is particularly efficient because it’s designed as a native app, which means all the data the application needs to function resides on the device instead of a server somewhere in a cloud, explains Theal.

“In fact, you can even work in a hospital dead zone where cellular data doesn’t work, and hospitals have lots of these areas. If you’re in a dead zone, when you take a scan of that patient’s label, the app stores that information and places that particular claim in a “in progress” folder. Then as soon as you have wireless data access again, it will then verify any claim that is still in progress against the Ministry.”

The app is designed with advanced encryption and security provided by Identos, a major player in the healthcare security market. “All the data is encrypted in the app. There are separate encryption keys for individual pieces of data within the patient’s file, so the patient’s name is one key, the patient’s health card number is another, etc. Every time you open the app you need to enter a PIN number which is separate from the password of the device. That PIN number identifies you and your device uniquely, and then pulls in the keys needed to decrypt the data in real time.”

Billings can still be retrieved if the phone is lost or stolen. “Submitted billings are stored in our cloud server, so you don’t lose them if you lose your phone. And any claims that are on the device are fully encrypted, preventing them from falling into the wrong hands.”

Agent+ has a simple cost structure: 1 percent of total billings are charged for the service. “Traditional billing agents charge far more than 1 percent. And we still provide the help and personal service of a real billing agent along with the app, to help correct any rejected claims for you.”

Theal says there are approximately 16,000 medical specialists in Ontario alone, so the market for Agent+ is large. “We’re actually just closing our beta test period right now, and Agent+ is already in use in five different hospitals in Ontario. We’ve already processed over a million dollars in claims. We plan to expand into other provinces as well.”

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