Feeling “appreciated, heard, valued”

Case Study | Family First Health | Pennsylvania
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    Federally qualified health center

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    Offers primary care, behavioral health and substance abuse care, HIV care, dental, and women’s healthcare

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    46 providers

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    7 locations across South Central Pennsylvania


  • Cumbersome workflows limited time spent with patients
  • One-size-fits-all approach couldn’t meet the specific needs of an FQHC
  • Provider and staff turnover as a result of prior EHR


  • athenaOne®
  • athenaTelehealth


  • Reduced average provider documentation time by 2.8 minutes since 2018
  • Participated in 53 alphas and betas since 2016, providing feedback on FQHC-specific products and enhancements
  • Improved provider retention

As chief medical information officer (CMIO) of Family First Health, a federally qualified health center (FQHC) providing care for underserved communities across South Central Pennsylvania, Dr. Luis Garcia bridges the gap between the practical and technical. “I’m in this unique role where I see patients, but I also have a voice in developing workflows,” Garcia explained.

As a result, he has a unique perspective on what product enhancements and services would be beneficial for Family First and other FQHCs. In athenahealth, Garcia says he has found not only a solution that improves the patient and provider experience, but even more importantly, a partner who’s eager to hear his feedback and take action on his ideas, more so than any EHR he’s worked with in the past.

Freeing up time to focus on patient care

Providing excellent care for their patients is truly at the heart of everything Family First does. Patients at each of their seven locations deal with significant challenges like access to food, technology, transportation, and education. Many patients also struggle with unresolved trauma layered on top of those challenges, necessitating a hands-on approach.

It’s important for providers to understand the full picture of the patient and develop a trusting relationship in order to provide the best care possible. Every minute spent with patients is valuable. Garcia says that the streamlined, seamless nature of athenaOne allows providers to spend more of their time with patients focusing on the person and less time looking at the computer.

“I find that I’m able to step away from the computer more often than not. Part of that is just the way that everything flows in the system, that you don’t have to take 10 clicks to get to things,” Garcia explained. “That helps me be a better doctor, and it helps me be more present with my patients.” The average time it takes Family First providers to document each encounter has decreased 2.8 minutes since the start of 2018, freeing up more time to spend with patients.

Garcia also credits athenaText, a mobile app that sends secure, HIPAA-compliant messages, with simplifying workflows and helping providers work more efficiently so they can focus more on their patients.

“I can be sitting here with a patient and they’re actively telling me about their chest pain, but I’ve already let my nurse know that we need an EKG through athenaText,” Garcia said. “I can hear her roll the EKG machine down to my door, and I can say, ‘All right, my nurse is going to take care of you now.’ And it’s a seamless transition. That’s one of those neat features that really helps in workflow.”

Building a strong, mutually beneficial partnership

As Family First’s CMIO, Garcia appreciates that he’s able to work closely with athenahealth on product development and research, helping the product team understand his health center’s needs. Family First has participated in product feedback calls, research groups, and even tested features through involvement in 53 alpha and beta programs.

“That allows us to have a voice and be heard, as well as help in product development and product enhancement,” Garcia said. In fact, feedback Garcia shares in these groups has resulted in new FQHC specific enhancements added to the product roadmap and changes to existing products, like tweaks to athenaTelehealth.

“Early on in the athenaTelehealth process, I shared a lot of ideas with athena. Those ideas got voted on, and some of them have actually come to fruition,” Garcia said. “So, to be able to see that ideas I've shared have now been implemented is really rewarding.”

Garcia also communicates regularly with athenahealth’s chief product officer, Paul Brient, and the FQHC Product Strategy team, sharing feedback on existing services and ideas for future products. The relationship means a lot to him. “To be able to have this connection with someone who’s at such a high level with athenahealth really makes me feel appreciated, heard, valued,” said Garcia. “I think that speaks volumes of the level of attention and care that athena’s leadership has for us.”

This strong focus on the customer results in a system that looks different than other EHRs Garcia has used in the past, which were built around billing instead of around seeing patients. Incorporating input from doctors about what they want and need helps create a system doctors actually want to use, according to Garcia. “athenaOne is a tool that helps me do my job better, and it works well. And that’s ultimately the goal,” he said.

Improving provider retention and addressing the source of burnout

The overall usability of the system has also played a role in improving Family First’s provider retention rate in recent years. Retention is an important issue for FQHCs, according to Garcia, and EHR-related burnout is a common source of the issue.

As the point person in charge of training new providers on athenaOne, Garcia believes that having a system that’s quick and easy to learn is crucial. “After about two weeks, a new provider who’s never used athena before — many of whom aren’t very computer literate — they’re up and running,” he said. “The system itself, the user interface — everything just makes sense. That is one of athena’s greatest strengths.”

With their previous EHR, Family First struggled with high provider turnover, but since switching to athenaOne, Garcia says that turnover has decreased significantly. “athena reduces frustration and burnout really well. As an FQHC, you’re making an investment not just in a product that works really well, but you’re also investing in retaining your providers, as you’re less likely to burn them out through the EHR.”

Luis Garcia, MD and CMIO, Family First Health

These results reflect the experience of one particular organization and are not necessarily what every athenahealth customer should expect.