Unearthing the diamonds in the data

By Lia Taniguchi | September 27, 2021


If there’s one thing the healthcare industry has plenty of, it’s data. But too often, healthcare data just sits on servers, accessible to a single doctor or practice, its potential untapped. At athenahealth, we unlock data across the healthcare ecosystem to generate actionable insights for our network of customers​. The quality of our data and our access to healthcare organizations of all types and sizes creates a unique opportunity to detect patterns and begin to understand what is and isn’t working in healthcare — and why.

Robust and representative network data enables in-depth analysis

With data from over 140,000 clinicians, 170 million patient records, and thousands of healthcare organizations across the country, athenahealth has one of the largest repositories of outpatient data in the U.S. The data is close to nationally representative, updated in real time, and includes information on a wide range of healthcare activities – health outcomes, clinical operations, electronic health record usage, and medical billing, to name just a few. Granular geographic, demographic, and clinical information enables us to dig beneath the surface on some of today’s biggest challenges in public health management, access to care, and health equity.

However, even the most robust data set can’t tell the entire story. So in addition to our quantitative analyses, we also talk to customers, who share their insights, their struggles, and their strategies for clinical and financial success. By combining these two types of research, we can not only surface patterns but explain them from the perspective of the people on the ground.

Diverse and aggregated data sources reveal the big picture

In healthcare, as in any industry, individuals typically see only a part of the system — their own part. At athenahealth, by aggregating clinical and operational data from across the network, we are able to see broader patterns in areas like telehealth adoption, mental health care, or out-of-pocket financial obligations.

The process begins by defining high-level research questions, such as, “How did the COVID-19 pandemic change the use of telehealth?” Using a variety of statistical techniques, our research team analyzes network data on topics like utilization rates, geographic patterns, clinical use cases, and patient demographics, giving a national picture of how telehealth is being used, by whom, and for what.

We then follow up with clinicians and administrators through surveys or interviews to understand what may be driving those patterns, like regulatory changes, patient engagement factors, or advanced payment models. These conversations reveal which strategies and tactics are helping some practices achieve particular success in any one area — like telehealth implementation.

Combining data science with personal observations allows athenahealth to tackle some of the biggest questions in healthcare, providing data and analysis of use to healthcare organizations, policymakers, and public health leaders. Our objective is to generate practical insights that enhance the healthcare conversation and can ultimately make the healthcare ecosystem more connected and effective for both clinicians and patients.

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