Athenahealth, Beth Israel forge unique EHR deal

'Our measure of success isn't fame or fortune, it's making a difference'
By Bernie Monegain
08:30 AM

Athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CIO John Halamka, MD, tend to see health IT in a similar way: it should be nimble, simple, robust and preferably cloud-based. Today, they announced a collaboration like no other.

Athenahhealth has purchased BIDMC's home-built clinical applications and EHR platform, called webOMR, and BIDMC has agreed to roll out athehealth's EHR, revenue cycle management and patient engagement services to its physician network or 185 providers across 38 locations in Massachusetts.

Financial terms of the deal were not released.

The two will collaborate on the development of athenahealth’s acute care service offering, which will support the needs of large hospitals and health systems across the country. Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham, a 58-bed community hospital, will serve as a test bed. Needham health care providers will use newly developed athenahealth inpatient functionality alongside their existing software portfolio.

"The culture of Beth Israel Deaconess has always been to challenge the status quo, to be a first mover focused on value – the highest quality at the lowest cost," Halamka said. “We know the days of self-built information systems will not last forever. We want to continue to innovate while also leveraging the scale of a commercial vendor.

"Four months ago when athena approached me and said, 'Well, we have an interesting alignment of interests. You want scale, and we want scale – what if we scaled, what if you built?' That sounded like a perfect alignment for collaboration," he added.

Bush's proposal resonated with Halamka on several levels. For one, it aligned with his core values.

"As a Harvard professor and a nonprofit guy, what we want is to share our experience and knowledge with the world," he said. "Our measure of success isn't fame or fortune, it's making a difference. So the notion of being able to scale across the country is very, very positive."

Athenahealth’s access to the webOMR technology will accelerate athenahealth’s ability to support the full spectrum of the hospital and health system market, an effort begun earlier this year when athenahealth announced its acquisition of RazorInsights and entered the 50-bed-and-under inpatient care space.

[See also: Athenahealth splashes into hospital market with startup buy.]

Developed over the past three decades, webOMR is one of the first hospital-built, inpatient and outpatient EHR systems, as well as the first self-built EHR system to achieve meaningful use certification.

By leveraging webOMR’s proven technology to gain insight into the complex modalities, rules, clinical content, algorithms, and workflows associated with a large, multi-site health system, athenahealth expects to speed its entry into the 100-bed-plus hospital market, which accounts for approximately 48 percent of all hospitals in the United States.

[See also: Hospital to let patients add to own EHRs.]

What sparked this unusual collaboration?

Athenahealth had lost several deals in 2014 and 2013, Bush told Healthcare IT News – mostly with hospitals employing many doctors.

"The doctors all wanted athena," he said. "The hospitals didn't choose it because they felt they had to deal like the other kids and have one name over inpatient and outpatient. So we were literally getting boxed out of deals through no fault of our service."

This experience led to the RazorInsights acquisition and athena's subsequent search for a way to build on its existing platform.

With BIDMC's webOMR, Bush said, "We'll be able to add that functionality to the Razor client base, and that will allow us to service bigger and bigger clients over the years. Over the course of the year we'll begin on a prototype of a new release of the inpatient that has some of webOMR functionality baked into it. And, by the end of the year, they'll be some prototype at some level of that combined.

"Athenahealth’s vision for a fully connected health care ecosystem, and our experience and expertise, puts us in an enviable position to build a new class of care coordination services to solve the shortcomings of legacy software platforms that are failing to advance the state of health care across our country," said Bush.

As for Halamka, he's pleased to go for the frugal approach.

"Just as Mayo chose Epic to reduce the number of different IT systems, BIDMC will pursue a parsimony solution - the fewest moving parts possible.  That might be one vendor, but hopefully it will not be more than two," he wrote in his Feb. 3 blog, the same day the athenahealth-BIDMC collaboration was announced.

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