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in terms of how tough the government is going to be in requiring demonstration of meaningful use. So if the government is a bunch of pushovers, then it won’t push much adoption. And if the government is tough, it will create a platform that could push adoption.
The truth of the matter is that this isn’t a lot of money in terms of the microeconomics of an individual doctor’s office and the federal money they will receive to pay for the EMRs. It’s some money, but it’s not enough in and of itself to drive EMR adoption.
X: What impact will this stimulus spending have on Athena?
Bush: The tougher it is to get the money the better it will be for Athena compared with other EMR companies, because we are fundamentally oriented towards providing services to help doctors offices get paid—and EMR companies aren’t. They are totally disconnected to their customers. So if this “meaningful use” looks anything like what the government has said in the past, in the Physicians Quality Reporting Initiative, then it’s going to be an absolute runaway boondoggle for Athena. And if it doesn’t include those reporting requirements, then it will be good for Athena but not much better than it is for other EMR companies. Either way, we’re expecting increased demand for our clinical services.
X: What differentiates Athenahealth from other firms that offer EMRs?
Bush: The big deal for us is that we go to market with software enabled by a service. We give away the software and we sell the business results. In the case of billing, we give away the software and then we go get the money and charge them a percentage of the payments. In the case of an electronic medical record, we give away the medical record and then go get the chart data from the laboratory and the pharmacy and the hospitals and charge for that. We believe that the way you get adoption is not waiting for the government to give something to you, but you actually do something useful for the government—so our job is to reduce the doctors’ operating costs and increase collections.
X: In the end, is this stimulus plan for EMRs going to work?
Bush: I certainly don’t think it will get all the doctors in the country onto EMRs by 2014—not even close. But if a quarter of them adopt EMRs as a result of the stimulus that would be unbelievable. We’ll have to choose a different time to have a meeting on whether I think this is good public policy [laugh]—but it sure is good for Athena.
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