CEO Spotlight: athenahealth's Jonathan Bush slams meaningful use as government interference and 'incredibly dark hubris'

The health IT executive claims rivals Allscripts and Epic were dead in the water before meaningful use, reveals his company’s parlor trick, and says don't call my technology an EHR.
By Bill Siwicki
09:12 AM

Healthcare information technology and services vendor athenahealth declined to participate in the electronic health records comparison shopping tool launched by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. And CEO Jonathan Bush spoke strongly when asked why.

“We’ve also declined to participate in the government’s parking meter comparison tool,” Bush joked.

First and foremost, Bush explained that athenahealth is not an electronic health record vendor, per se, because it offers much more than just its EHR, notably revenue cycle management, patient communications and care coordination between providers.

What’s more, the government pushing EHRs with its meaningful use reimbursement incentives does not sit well with Bush.

[Also: CIOs tell ONC: It's time to let the EHR market innovate to drive interoperability]

“The concept is adorable and idealistic yet just incredibly dark hubris of the government, as if it knows that organizations need EHRs, that is adorable and sweet,” Bush said. “And they are not corrupt people, the people running our country. But this reminds me of the Food Pyramid and making everyone eat less fat, so all the foods in the country cut out animal fats that were good for you and replaced them with sugar and salt to create the same tastes and in turn created the diabetes and heart disease epidemics we have today. There was no Dr. Evil at the FDA saying get people addicted to sugar.”

But the government did that, Bush contended, and when it comes to EHRs, federal officials are doing it again.

“They are driving organizations into products, and that is a mistake,” he said of the meaningful use regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Allscripts and Epic were dead in the water before meaningful use, they were obsolete, unable to do the job that needs to be done.”

So what exactly is that job to be done by health technologies?

Software is not the point anymore, Bush argued, instead it’s connectivity that really matters.

“Even if Ed McMahon gave you an EHR, your problems would not be solved – and that did happen, except his name was Barack Obama, and no one believes their problems have been solved,” Bush said. “This whole idea of interoperability, what the hell is that? That is so fundamental. It means theoretically your computer can be trained to work with another computer. When a doctor sees a patient, that doctor should be able to know everything that has ever happened to that patient before, and where and when.”

To that end, Bush claimed that athenahealth’s health information network encompasses some 81 million patient records, 128,000 connections to end-points not on the athenahealth network that include pharmacies, laboratories, mobile apps and digital health companies as well as other vendors’ EHR systems. In total, 12 percent of all ambulatory medicine is happening on athenahealth’s networks, Bush added, and about 50 percent of ambulatory medicine is being touched by the network.

“Our parlor trick,” Bush said, “is to find all the things you do in your business that you really hate that are not clinical in nature and we do them for you, and all you have to do is agree to be part of this network so we can scale the delivery of these services and you can benefit from connected care.” 

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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