Health IT

What’s in a name? Just ask athenahealth’s loquacious CEO Jonathan Bush

Five minutes into an interview with Jonathan Bush, CEO of cloud-based health IT company athenahealth Inc., and you begin to wonder how his first cousin — former President George W. Bush — would have benefited from the gift that this loquacious and articulate Bush possesses.

athenahealth’s Bush talks fast and talks a lot, and you can barely keep up (I wrote furiously for the 30 minutes we talked and my brain is swimming with all the gems I missed taking down in my notebook. I know, I should have recorded the conversation). But Bush isn’t just glib. He is also in your face.

At the same time, he means to be thoughtful and even says so. Or more precisely, he hopes athenahealth will be more thoughtful in how it markets its services to doctors following the acquisition of Epocrates, the mobile health company that commands widespread name recognition among doctors and caregivers. The company announced it was acquiring Epocrates for $293 million on Monday. Epocrates makes mobile apps that help doctors and nurses look up drug and disease information at the point of care.


“Instead of yelling and being thoughtless in our desperation, we can speak and be thoughtful and have a more mature marketing approach,” Bush said in an interview outside the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. “Once we can get doctors’ attention, we can stop doing the steak dinners and the big ads.”

Or changing OB-GYNs and pediatricians for his five kids in a bid to get each new doc to adopt athenahealth’s cloud offerings including electronic medical records, as Bush blithely admitted to doing early on in his company’s life.

What Epocrates, which 80 percent to 90 percent of doctors and nurses recognize, brings to athenahealth is that unparalleled name recognition and familiarity. That’s a lot higher than the 30-plus percentage of doctors who recognize athenahealth and the 10 percent who claim they know the Massachusetts company but erroneously believe “we are an insurance company based in Hartord, Connecticut,” Bush quipped.

In 2013, Bush has several goals, the first of which is to get the Epocrates transaction done. But beyond that he hopes to make the company’s cloud-based offerings more easily usable requiring less training and visually more appealing. He also intends to reduce the implementation time required to move a provider from their current paper or other system to its cloud-based service to two weeks down from five months. He also wants to make sure that all customers see the financial benefit of switching to athenahealth be it in the form of getting paid for Meaningful Use or becoming properly equipped to get paid under the ACO model.

He also wants to build an unparalleled business network across the healthcare chain.

But he closed the interview with a tantalizing thought. The company has access to 40 million patient records.

“We know how many people get the flu …” he said.

So, will athenahealth become a big source of big data in the future?


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