Athenahealth quits EHR association

Calls attention to meaningful use successes following disappointing quarter
By Bernie Monegain
10:50 AM
Jonathan Bush

Cloud-based EHR company athenahealth will resign from the EHR Association. Its executives say it does not belong there, since it is neither an EHR company nor a software vendor.

In a news release announcing its resignation from the EHR Association, athenahealth executives said:

"athenahealth's public policy priorities are broader and more varied than those of the traditional software vendors that run the EHRA – and even where their priorities overlap, too often athena is on opposite sides of crucially important debates. For example, athenahealth advocates for aggressive timelines and high standards, where the opposite is true for the EHRA as many of their members’ static software systems are unable to meet timelines and standards as we’ve seen with meaningful use.

"The EHRA is a consensus body that advocates, properly, in the interests of its members. A strong majority of its members are legacy software vendors. athenahealth is not going to convince EHRA to advocate against the interests of a majority of its own members, nor should athena try to do so. athena's goals and interests are simply different from theirs, which is why athena has terminated its membership."

The same release touted the meaningful use attestation rate of athenahealth's clients – 96 percent for Stage 1 in 2012, compared with CMS’ release of overall industry attestation, which was 44 percent in 2012. (2013 numbers for athena are at 95.4 percent, but CMS has not yet released overall numbers.)

The company credits its meaningful use dashboard, a visibility tool showing the performance of healthcare providers on the athenahealth network against all meaningful use measures, for its clients’ success. The dashboard has been updated to include meaningful use Stage 2 measure performance and will be updated monthly through the end of the calendar year, athena executives say.

In spite of its clients’ performance on the meaningful use front, athenahealth reported an $8.1 million dollar loss for Q1 2014. That’s 21 cents per share compared with earnings of $0.7 million, or 2 cents per share, in the first quarter of 2013.

The StreetRatings team evaluated athena’s stock this way:

"We rate ATHENAHEALTH INC (ATHN) a HOLD. The primary factors that have impacted our rating are mixed -- some indicating strength, some showing weaknesses, with little evidence to justify the expectation of either a positive or negative performance for this stock relative to most other stocks. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its robust revenue growth, expanding profit margins and good cash flow from operations. However, as a counter to these strengths, we also find weaknesses including disappointing return on equity and premium valuation."

"We made significant progress in the first quarter of 2014 as we continued to invest, innovate, and reshape the caregiver experience," said Jonathan Bush, athenahealth's chairman and chief executive officer, on the April 17 Q1 earnings call.  "By making targeted investments in growth, innovation, and facilities, we are positioning the company to continue on our 30 percent growth trajectory. We continue to transform and grow our network with a keen eye on our vision of building an information backbone that helps make healthcare work as it should.

[See also: Athenahealth to create 607 jobs in Texas.]

At athenahealth, today, the focus was on providing value for clients, particularly as it pertains to achieving measures of meaningful use:

“athenahealth’s unique combination of cloud-based software, network knowledge, and back-office work means our providers are supported every step of the way,” said Todd Rothenhaus, MD, chief medical officer and senior vice president of network knowledge at athenahealth, in a press statement. “We make meaningful use simple by embedding measures right into the EHR workflow, coaching, and even attesting on our clients’ behalves – something no other vendor does – so they can focus on patient care and receive their incentive payments as quickly as possible. We are proving once again that technology doesn’t have to slow healthcare providers down. Our clients are thriving despite change, earning incentive dollars, avoiding looming penalties, and improving the delivery of care for millions of patients across the United States.”

[See also: athenahealth topples Epic on KLAS list.]

Rothenhaus credit’s athenahealth’s early preparation measures, as well as its ability to monitor real-time client performance and provide live coaching for its clients’ strong overall performance on the meaningful use Stage 2 dashboard.

"One of the things athenahealth does best is facilitate compliance with government requirements for meaningful use," said Suzin Hagar, MD, a family practitioner with Medford Medical Clinic in Medford, Ore., in a news release. "Athenahealth manages to collect and document the necessary information for meaningful use in the background so that practices can meet their goals almost effortlessly. By providing tracking of these requirements, a provider can see at any time if there are outstanding items that need to be addressed."