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The Importance of “Being Present”

by Jonathan Bush, President & CEO

The athenahealth social media team recently got me blogging on a wider scale as part of a new LinkedIn project called the Influencers program. In the first post, I wrote about the importance of learning the “why” of your work, the immense value of understanding the purpose behind your vocation. My second Influencers entry focused on every chief executive’s need to be able to step away from the helm. That idea was meant as food for thought, about knowing that the team you’ve built can mind the shop while you take time off with your family. In upcoming LinkedIn posts, I’ll throw in some more ”view from the corner office” stuff, but my real passion is taking apart the biggest problems in health care and discussing how athenahealth tackles them.

But, for the moment, let’s get back to that summer break. I’ve spent most of August off the coast of Maine with family, cousins and friends, and it’s been delightful. With the modern technology available to just about everyone today, I could have swooped in (virtually) to any meeting or conference call but I mostly restrained myself. Instead I have focused on being present in Maine.

That idea of “being present” has become a theme at athenahealth. If any of you have endured a presentation from me in the past 15 or so months, you’ve undoubtedly seen a slide of the painting “The Doctor,” by Sir Luke Fildes (image, below). And you’ve heard me explain how a return to the sanctity of the moment depicted in that painting, with the patient receiving the caregiver’s undivided attention, is why we at athenahealth show up for work every day.

Sir Luke Fildes'

We first saw this work of art when Dr. Abraham Verghese used it in a keynote address at our 2012 User Conference, to discuss the importance of being present in the moment of care. That painting has become an illustration of our “why” as a company, our devotion to making health care a reflection of humanity.

So while I am winding down the last days of summer, a summer I thoroughly enjoyed, I am also champing at the bit because we are not there yet, not at the place the painting depicts. We have not swung the pendulum back to a sharply honed application of information technology that allows today’s caregiver to be so fully present as Fildes depicted and fully engaged with the patient. There’s still so much to do and summer vacation has given me so much time to think about it!

We still need to:

  • Create a sustainable market for health information exchange
  • Apply the principles of comparative advantage to health care
  • Preserve the sanctity of the provider-patient relationship (see above)

As you enjoy these last sunrises and sunsets before Labor Day, let me share a final thought:

A natural organism’s preferred condition is called homeostasis, something you can observe by looking closely at the rocky saltwater ecosystem here in coastal Maine. (Think barnacles and clusters of mussels.) I have experienced this condition firsthand this summer, as I certainly enjoyed some quiet afternoons of homeostasis out on the hammock. But this condition of being “relatively stable” (the dictionary definition of homeostasis) is not an acceptable condition in health care. In fact, it is wholly detrimental to our collective future.

We need disruptive innovation to fix what is a glaringly broken system. We are disrupting the status quo for good, so we can achieve sustainable, competitive markets and fully present caregivers practicing at the tops of their licenses. And that’s why I know, at a company that sprints like hell all the time — with short breathers in the summer — I plan to jump off the hammock and hit the ground running… next week.

Check out Jonathan Bush's Google+ Profile. Follow @Jonathan_Bush on Twitter.

Jonathan Bush is the President and CEO of athenahealth.

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