Athenahealth Paying Dearly to Take on Larger Rivals

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Athena’s electronic health record, athenaClinicals, with Microsoft’s healthcare information exchange system, called Amalga, for Cook Children’s Health Care System in Texas. One group that took notice was Caritas Christi Health Care, which had also adopted Microsoft’s Amalga software, says Todd Rothenhaus, the chief information officer of Caritas Christi. Caritas Christi initially launched Athena’s billing software and service in October and then revealed in January that it decided to offer the company’s EHR to physicians, even though the organization was already a customer of eClinicalWorks. “If it weren’t for Amalga, I think we would have struggled with the choice,” Rothenhaus says.

To compete with larger firms in the EHR game, Athena has been trying to allay the concerns of many physicians that they will ultimately end up losing money by deploying the records systems. Bush says that Athena might be able to halve the amount that physicians pay to use its EHR if they participate in what is now a nascent effort at the company called “AthenaCommunity.” Athena’s EHR customers who opt to share their patients’ data with other providers would pay a discounted rate to use Athena’s health record software. Athena would be able to make money with the patient data by charging, say, a hospital a small fee to access a patient’s insurance and medical information from Athena’s network. For a hospital’s part, this might be cheaper than paying its own staff to gather a patient’s information through standard intake procedures. Hallock, Athena’s spokesman, says the community is in development and is slated to  launch later this year.

Still, the value of online communities often depends on the number of members they have, meaning Athena still has to raise its profile among the physicians. When I thanked Bush (and, yes, former President George W. Bush is his first cousin) for generously taking the time to talk to me about his firm’s planned community, he was clear that our discussion was part of the company’s efforts to raise its profile. “It’s not generosity; it’s selfish,” he says. “Nobody’s ever heard of Athena.”

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