In So Many Words is a timely chat with an ophthalmic industry thought leader.
Link Wilson, founder and CEO of Compulink Business Systems, Inc, began the company in 1985 with one goal — to make medical practices more efficient by becoming paperless. Here, he discusses how Compulink Advantage has changed over the decades and the importance of offering an “all-in-one” practice solution, especially in this era of private equity buyouts.
Ophthalmology Management: The first version of Advantage software came out in 1985. Compare that product to what is available now.
Link Wilson: In comparison to what we can do now, the first version of Advantage was trivial — it could only be used to record patient demographics and for patient recall. There wasn’t a lot of functionality, but that was pretty much the norm for such systems at the time. Back then, I’d say about 30% of private practices were using such a program for minimal activities like recall and billing. But, the physicians loved the efficiency of it and kept asking for more features, so we kept adding. That’s the story of software, really — it’s never completely finished.
We gradually included features like point of sale and inventory management and were also the first program to incorporate inventory barcoding. Soon thereafter we introduced our first Medical Records capability, allowing providers to control their workflow. It is a hallmark of our product today.
Around the late 90s, I decided that we couldn’t control our customers’ happiness so long as we were dependent on third-party vendors to handle other aspects of practice management. To give them the best service, we had to make Advantage an “all-in-one” product.
OM: How else has Advantage changed over the decades?
Link Wilson: We’ve gone through many changes over the years. Advantage started as a program for the DOS operating system and then migrated to Windows. Then, in 2011, we began hosting our solution for those clients who didn’t want the expense and headaches of managing a server. We now have thousands of clients running on our Amazon cloud along while still offering servers for those clients who want an on-premise solution.
We’ve had to reinvent ourselves every four or five years, continuing to update our technology and adding features. In the technology business if you stand still, you die.
OM: What new features did the upgrades produce?
Link Wilson: Physicians want the same thing as in the 1980s: a product that makes their practice more efficient.
Today, that’s about gestures — how do I save a click on a screen, a swipe on a tablet? How can this software predict what I want next and make it easier to find? In 2018, you accomplish that by using data mining and analytics, similar to Google. Google can target online ads based on search history, and we aim to bring that function to Advantage with our new patient engagement capability.
The way this works — patients who enter a clinic will receive a text message from the Advantage system on their phone. Once clicked, the message will take them to a new screen where they can learn more about the practice and the services offered. The information patients look up, including how long they linger on a certain page, is sent to the clinic in real time so that when staff meets with the patient they will know what he or she was interested in and what to talk with the patient about.
We plan to roll it out officially around the end of the first quarter.
Another recent addition is OneTab, which streamlines Advantage’s exam layout to a single screen. Physicians hate clicking through 15 tabs, so we try to make sure everything is one click away. We also recently added an e-prescribing service.
Compulink also offers Revenue Cycle Management Services, which allows a practice to eliminate its billers by having Compulink take over this job, reducing billing costs by as much as 50%.
OM: What challenges do you see ahead for Compulink, and for EHR and practice management systems as a whole?
Link Wilson: For Compulink, one of our biggest challenges is that we have made so many product advances over the last 30 years that we’re often battling people’s old perceptions of us.
The improvements we’ve made in the last two to three years are phenomenal, but if a physician made up his mind five years ago that we weren’t for him then he may not look at us again.
For the industry, versatility is becoming more important — we’ve seen EHR-only companies be bought up by venture capitalists. To be competitive, you have to offer a single, comprehensive solution. That’s why I wanted Compulink to take that approach in the ‘90s.
At the rate private equity and venture capital investment are buying up practices, I believe that in 10 years about half of the ambulatory ophthalmic practices will be part of new, consolidated enterprise groups. As that occurs, it’s my belief that these large businesses are not going to want to limit themselves strictly to ophthalmic services, but will be looking for a product to support multi-specialties.
Even today we see many ophthalmic practices adding, for example, dermatological and aesthetic services. Advantage EHR is currently available for 18 specialties, as well as a solution for ASCs.
We believe that positions us well for long-term growth as our clients’ businesses change and expand. OM