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athenahealth Announces Pilot Participation in Precision Medicine Initiative

by Greg Carey, Technology Standards and Policy Manager

On February 25th athenahealth COO Ed Park joined the President of the United States and industry leaders at the White House to assess progress on the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) and announce commitments to the Sync for Science (S4S) pilot.  You may be surprised--or similarly disappointed—to learn that the link between athenahealth, President Obama, and an NBA legend has nothing to do with basketball. 

Precision medicine is a rapidly evolving approach to care that accounts for genetic differences, environments, and lifestyles for individualized disease prevention and treatment.  The Precision Medicine Initiative’s mission is to enable a new era of medicine through research, technology, and policies in order to empower patients, researchers, and providers to work together toward the development of individualized treatments.  Precision medicine has made enormous strides in a short time.  In 2003, it cost $400 million to sequence a human genome; today, it’s only about $1,000. 

So what does an NBA legend have to do with PMI?  Quite a lot, it turns out.  Along with an increasing number of similar success stories, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar experienced first-hand the benefits of precision medicine.  He credits precision medicine and individualized treatments with his health today after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008. 

athenahealth, along with Allscripts, Cerner, drchrono, Epic and McKesson, will lead the Sync for Science pilot as part of PMI.   As vessels for massive quantities of data, EHRs are integral pieces of precision medicine.  The S4S pilot is a commitment to use open APIs to contribute data and accelerate a new model of patient-enabled research.  In the near term, the data collected will contribute to cancer research and the moonshot cancer goal that the President referenced in the 2016 State of the Union address.  The long term goal is to create a cohort of over one million Americans whose genetic data, biological samples, and diet and lifestyle information will be linked to their physician’s EHR.   Like most successful initiatives, the pilot will start small as athenahealth collaborates with other vendors to build the specifications and processes to transmit data to the PMI research cohort.

The launch of S4S could not be better timed.  athenahealth is focused on increasing the prevalence of APIs in information exchange.  Instead of your cardiologist receiving a multiple page Continuity of Care Document (CCD) with superfluous information like an old ankle x-ray, an API is capable of surfacing only key information to the specialist.  Unfortunately, this logical approach is not the norm in healthcare today.  At the event, President Obama emphasized the need in healthcare for the same seamless information exchange commonplace in other industries. 

Here are a few of athenahealth’s ideas for Sync for Science to help enable providers to more precisely care for patients:

Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Stakeholders should leverage current industry standards for data exchange to structure and transport information.  We can do this while keeping an eye on emerging standards, such as FHIR (Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources) for future use. 

Encourage the government to look at the regulatory framework and recognize areas for updating.  Many regulations were designed for a different era of medicine and are less relevant today.  Outdated and unclear privacy and security laws are just a few examples. 

Every stakeholder involved in PMI should follow the path laid out by the President when he said precision medicine “won’t work unless we have the private sector coming up with innovation… and we don’t want bureaucracy to stand in the way of that.”  athenahealth, along with the other Sync for Science participants, can innovate and iterate faster than any government regulation can foresee. 


Throughout 2016, athenahealth will build an integration to the PMI research cohort in order for several pilot sites to submit data.   Ultimately, the Precision Medicine Initiative can make tomorrow’s cures the reality today.  Unsurprisingly, the medical field has great expectations.  It’s time for S4S participants and the government to get to work, putting guardrails in place but letting private sector innovation realize our shared goal of better health outcomes and more individualized care through precision medicine.

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