The High-Performing Physician Network 1.0


  • The key attributes of high-performing physician networks
  • The potential payoff of adopting the lessons of athenahealth’s top performers

A national faith-based health system with headquarters in Chicago; an orthopedic group in San Antonio; a cardiology practice in Mississippi. These organizations are different in almost every way but one: they all excel at operational and financial performance. In recent years, the healthcare industry has searched for organizations that can serve as national models for turning traditionally hard-to-lead physician groups into high-performing networks. Often, these efforts focus on the same group of well-known, highly-touted health systems — the established celebrities of the industry. But, as our research reveals, high performance comes in all shapes and sizes and appears in unexpected places.

How do we know? In 2016, athenahealth worked with research partner Dr. Leonard Schlesinger, Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School, to develop a preliminary framework for how to improve clinical and financial performance by drawing from an unparalleled data set and established lessons from other service industries. The athenahealth data set is the digital by-product of providing electronic health records, billing, population health, and other services to healthcare providers on a single, shared network. The database consists of more than 80,000 providers—57,000 of them physicians—practicing in a wide range of locations and specialties nationwide.

This national, standardized source of data enabled athenahealth and Schlesinger to use a “moneyball” approach. Much as the Oakland A’s of the early 2000s used hard statistics to identify undiscovered stars on the rosters of Major League Baseball teams, athenahealth used quantitative screens to flag top-performing physician networks. This let us look beyond well-known industry players to find organizations that have outperformed across a set of financial and operational metrics. In this way, we’ve identified hidden bright spots in American healthcare, and documented what makes them excel.

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