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Stopping the Silliness of athenahealth's Beast

by Jonathan Bush, President & CEO

Remember the beast?

Well, we had to let him go, back into the Everglades. Sadly, he's gone. While athenahealth employees may love snappy, silly, highly metaphorical expressions of our mission, it seems that doctors … well, not so much.

As one doctor told me at one of our conferences in Maine last year, “If you want to turn me off, flash a big bunch of colors and an animated octopus with happy people in my face. If you want to turn me on, give me some Courier 12-pt. font with data I haven’t seen anywhere before!”

I think he’s right. Of course he’s right.

This is what turns me on most about athenahealth: Find me another living data set with 32,700 providers seeing a pool of 25 million patients in a single, Oracle database where one administrator has the right and skill to adjust and administer the fields, which are captured 24/7! We are sitting on so much untapped truth and our marketing has been … well, really rather cute. And not that serious.

So here is Version 1 of the new, more mature athenahealth.

It's a campaign we call “This is How.” Yes, we expect it to look more boring, at the same time that our command of the content we sit on (and our confidence) improves.

Why Were We So Flashy?

Partly, I think the flashiness was due to the worst fears of flash-haters: that we didn’t actually have much to say. Even if we had a lot to say and just didn't understand what it was, we felt we had to say it all in lots of colorful ways.

Also though, the kinds of people we need to make athenahealth function smoothly are young, brilliant and hungry for an emotional connection to their work. It seems we were advertising to ourselves. It may have felt good but it wasn’t on mission for our clients.

Our clients feel a connection to their work, too and it is emotional--but there is a stewardship component to it that we are only just starting to feel. Our clients started their careers by taking the Hippocratic Oath … “First, Do No Harm”...  Nifty, high-speed Internet companies that soar to the moon with new inventions can also fail spectacularly, and many do. With cool game apps and nifty smartphones, this is just fine. Not so with human lives.

During our 13 years, we have accumulated one of the most powerful assets for innovation in the history of health care: the ability to surveil, in real time, what happens and what doesn’t … what works and what doesn’t.

From Flash to Facts

So, rather than spend tens of millions of dollars yelling the same three things we need you to hear, in ever louder and more colorful ways, we have decided instead to spend more, most of it over time, on a whisper of new truth.

We know how many times a doctor's orders have actually been updated in the charts as a result … and no one else does. We know the biggest black holes and no one else does. We know how long it takes for a result to come back if it is going to do so. We know that certain vaccinations are under-reimbursed nearly half the time when the total cost to the physician, beyond the cost of acquisition of a specific vaccine, is considered. 

We know so many things like this … and we want to have a reason to know more … and to share it. So from now on, we have decided to make that part of our marketing budget.

Last year, for the first time, we saw a Ph.D. defended with the help of athenaNet. The candidate used athenaClinicals EHR data to understand the optimal organizational structure of a medical practice. This year, we want to try three more peer-reviewed studies.

We want our marketing to be as “on mission” as account management and operations. We want to wipe out the huge mistake of buying software for health care in 2012. We are growing up a little each year and this year, that means we will learn to be patient and on mission with our marketing.

We hope you like it… but we REALLY hope you use it.

PS... Please feel free to follow the link above to watch "This is How" and then come back here and call BS if you think it’s still too flashy!! Still miss the Beast? I heard he didn’t last long down there in the Everglades.

Jonathan Bush is the President and CEO of athenahealth.

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