athenahealth Exec: Healthcare Tech Will Construct on Telehealth, Distant Care

Earlier this month, athenahealth announced that it would support a new iOS15 feature that would allow patients to share their Apple Health data with their providers.

The company stated that the move was made as part of an effort to “enable bringing external insights and innovations to the point of care” while also leveraging athenahealth’s FHIR Launch and App Tab experience so that providers “can view their patients’ shared data within their native athenaClinicals workflows via an Apple-provided app.”

Paul Brient, Chief Product Officer at the Watertown, Massachusetts-based electronic health records vendor, spoke with HealthLeaders to underscore the goals of working with Apple and promoting healthcare innovation.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

HL: Can you give a high-level overview of the Apple Health news for our audience of healthcare executives and how athenahealth is supporting this? 

Brient: Recently, Apple announced that they are working with several HIT partners, including athenahealth, on an upcoming feature that will enable patients to securely share data from the Apple Health app – including data from certain health records categories like lab test results and immunizations, as well as health information, such as exercise minutes, heart rate, or hours of sleep, from iPhone, Apple Watch and third-party connected devices — directly with their providers. We’re excited to offer this option to empower the patient as a critical part of the care team with control of their data.  

athenahealth is supporting this feature as part of our broader Platform Services strategy and our corporate vision to create a thriving ecosystem that delivers accessible, high-quality, and sustainable healthcare for all. By driving connections and the free flow of information between technologies, our solutions enable providers with the necessary insights to help patients become more actively engaged with their care plans, improve healthcare outcomes, and control costs.  

The new Apple Health app feature, which will be available this fall, will leverage our FHIR Launch and App Tab experience so that providers can view their patients’ shared data within their native athenaClinicals EHR workflows via an Apple-provided app. In addition, we continue to invest in platform capabilities that empower our customers and their patients to choose from the best tools and services across the healthcare ecosystem and look forward to enabling other applications to bring external insights and innovations to the point of care. Enhancing the interoperability of health data is critical in redefining the future of healthcare. 

HL: As the industry pivots to a post-pandemic landscape, what sectors are primed to see the most amount of innovation? 

Brient: The new ways providers have engaged with their patients during the pandemic have certainly yielded efficiencies and exposed the inefficiencies of the “traditional” patient engagement model. There will be significant innovation as these new techniques and tools are adopted and adapted to a post-pandemic world. At long last, patients will soon be able to engage digitally with the healthcare system in the same way they engage with services they receive in non-healthcare industries. 

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I expect that in the coming months and years, we will see more technology and applications emerge that will build on telehealth and remote care. There is still a lot of opportunity for healthcare technology, as AI, machine learning, virtual reality, and other technologies become more mainstream. We are just beginning to see the impact that AI and machine learning can have on enabling the EHR. Right now, EHRs are built to serve up the text on the screen and let the user interpret it. However, we will start to see more advancements in AI to help the computer understand what those things on the screen mean, avoid asking redundant questions, and suggest shortcuts – all of which will make the provider and patient experience more seamless. 

Before the pandemic, it was assumed that any new technology would take months or even years to be implemented, just based on previous experience. The pandemic has shown us how capable we are as an industry to adapt and implement new technologies and strategies in a matter of days.  

HL: How should leaders at payer and provider organizations approach investments in technology and digital health offerings? 

Brient: While digital health has the power to help connect patients, providers, and payers, we must remember there’s no one-size-fits-all approach in healthcare. To prosper in a post-pandemic world, healthcare leaders across payer and provider organizations must build on their innovative responses to COVID-19 and rethink their current strategies to include the right technology and digital health offerings that meet the unique post-pandemic needs of their communities.  

When evaluating an investment in new technologies, payers and providers should examine their complete ecosystem to identify the challenges the community is facing and what technologies will help bridge those gaps. This can be anything from recognizing a need for faster revenue cycle management and less paperwork or investing in technology to send alerts to patients to reduce no-show appointments. Over the past year, we have seen many advancements in technology, but not everything will be perfect for every organization. Instead, the right investment will build on the current strategy, creating a more seamless experience for all parties. 

HL: What are the forward-looking plans for athenahealth, both in the short-term and long-term? 

Brient: As we look to the future, there are several trends that we are tracking and that will be central to our decisions on product development and customer support. One of these is the advent of real, experiential interoperability where we are poised on the verge of tangible improvements in the way providers, payers, patients, and everyone in the healthcare ecosystem exchange information—the growth in the API economy in healthcare is reshaping what’s possible. Interoperability is about a lot more than just defining technical standards. Although that’s very important, at its most basic level, interoperability matters because it allows for a better-connected healthcare ecosystem. 

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Second, we are making major investments in both the patient and provider experience. The reality is that patients have a very different level of digital engagement with the 82% of the economy that is not healthcare – we seek to change that. Providers today still sometimes talk about EHRs as getting in the way of care or maybe just not being as cumbersome as others. Given the complexity of medicine, the rate that knowledge changes, and the information intensity inherent in practicing in today’s world, EHRs should be viewed as an essential and critical tool in the care delivery process. We are working hard to make our EHR fit naturally into any physician’s workflow and, by making it intelligent, anticipate what is needed and proactively provide it at the right time in the right context.  

Third, we are working to integrate population health tools into our EHR ecosystem. Today the state-of-the-art separates these two products ironically in the name of coordinating care. We believe that patients and providers will be best served with a truly integrated care management/population health platform that allows for a single, shared care plan, visibility by care managers into the point of care and vice versa and allows the extended care team to collaborate easily and effortlessly. 

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