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Adoption & Implementation News

athenahealth CEO: Providers, not government, will enable health IT innovation

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- Last week, we reported that Jonathan Bush, CEO of athenahealth, would join Dr. Joel Fienman, President of Valley Medical Group and Dr. Eric Topol, author and cardiologist, for a discussion of the future of health digital medicine on WBGH’s Innovation Hub, hosted by Kara Miller. According to Bush, unless independent physicians are empowered to shop around, innovation in healthcare will remain stifled by regulation and policy.

In the course of talking about innovation in delivering high-quality healthcare through health information technology (IT), Bush argued that unlike other industries, healthcare is limited by extensive regulations inhibiting the development of new tools:

The possibility for innovation is rich. First of all, the cost is unbelievably high, the price is unbelievably high, so you can make a fortune and still be cheaper than the next guy. So that draws entrepreneurial, innovative people in. The tools have been evolving in other market spaces and we can borrow them, so that’s exciting. On the downside, you don’t have many buyers. The government is half — one buyer —and half all the dollars are Medicare and Medicaid and then there’s sort of a smattering of Blue plans and Aetna-Cigna. So the buying side needs to break up before real innovation takes place, but that could happen

We are blessed with a plethora of tools that have developed in other market spaces where innovation is allowed. To have innovation, you need many buyers and many sellers and freedom for the buyers and sellers to shop. And that’s very hard in healthcare regulatorily and otherwise, but the technology that we need in healthcare or that we could use in healthcare is evolving in other market spaces and we can borrow it.

Simply put, market forces continue to get in the way of progress. But as Bush noted, perceptions of innovations need to be reined in and begin at providing solutions to basic problems such as the electronic exchange of health information instead of requiring patients to carry printouts from one provider to the next.  “Innovation starts at the most practical, tactical, ridiculously-simple, and then as people master those things, that becomes the base code for the next more sophisticated,” the athenahealth CEO claimed.

The major source of frustration of those working to reform healthcare comes from limits placed on buyers and sellers. “We are blessed with a plethora of tools that have developed in other market spaces where innovation is allowed. To have innovation, you need many buyers and many sellers and freedom for the buyers and sellers to shop,” Bush continued, “And that’s very hard in healthcare regulatorily and otherwise, but the technology that we need in healthcare or that we could use in healthcare is evolving in other market spaces and we can borrow it.”

The solution to the problem of healthcare is already taking place in other industries. “In every other sector in our society, the consumer shops,” argued Bush. “That shopping is what’s missing.” Giving independent physicians the ability to change the way they deliver care in terms of cost and capability is key to making innovation a reality. “The doctors that aren’t employed by hospitals for the purpose of keeping the hospital full, but independent clinics who can go to the health insurance companies or employers and say, ‘I got ways of making these patients happier and healthier if you give me the money and the ability to shop.’”

Listen to Bush describe the impetus for healthcare innovation:

For the complete discussion, head over to Innovation Hub.

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