Athenahealth is a US based company, started back in 1997. At the center of their services is a cloud-based electronic medical record service, known as athenaClinicals (with a quirky spelling that includes a lowercase first letter, and the capital letter in the middle). There is also an emphasis on networking for both exchange of patient information, and benchmarking of outcomes.
The athenaClinicals EHR component has plenty of features to support clinician’s workflow. This includes functions such as appointment scheduling, billing, compliance tracking, charting and e-prescribing. Entering data is performed, in addition to the usual typing via a keyboard, via voice recognition, although handwriting recognition is disappointingly not offered. To keep this affordable, it is also certified for meaningful use (which can provide a financial incentive), and is fully HIPAA certified.
There is also support for a patient portal, as well as scheduling of patient appointments. Through this portal, patients can schedule their appointments, get access to practice forms, and pay their co-pays online. This then integrates with the automated messaging tool, that then sends out automated reminders to patients for their appointments, and bills. Alerts are also messaged for test results that the patient can access in the patient portal. This level of automation is ideal for reducing staff time, and appeals to younger patients that are more likely to engage via this type of experience.
E-prescribing is an area where athenaClinicals shows its evolution and flexibility. E-prescribing is the important process of electronically transmitting prescriptions from prescribers to the patient’s pharmacies. With the current opioid crisis, many states now have instituted, and in some cases require, that prescribers check the database of prescriptions that the patient has received prior to entering the prescription. This state level database is known as a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), and not only does the prescriber in some regions have to check the database for other restricted prescriptions before , which can take some minutes each time, but also that the PDMP was reviewed as part of the prescribing process. Furthermore, this process needs to be documented, which is an additional ‘Time sink’ as the database is logged into, the patient is located, the information is reviewed, and then printed out to be separately scanned into the patient’s EHR. Well, with athenaClinicals this entire process is now streamlined, so the EHR now directly integrates with the PDMP, with the patient’s prior drug information instantly available to the clinician, and equally important that this whole process gets documented in real time- a major timesaver from the previous fragmented process.
There is also support for pediatric use, with support for vaccine management, and custom bundles.
In addition to direct clinical use, athenaClinicals also ties into administrative functions. This includes components that support medical billing, inventory management and physician management. There is also integration with accounting, and with policy management.
No EHR is perfect, and athenaClinicals has its share of shortcomings. For example, some users complain that while the support is quite robust on the initial setup, that subsequently it can take significantly longer to get assistance, and it is not as readily available as on site. This can impact some more advanced tasks, such as clinicians creating templates for notes, and if not done at the outset, the support for this is lacking.
Billing is another service offered through the EHR, and it can certainly be an attractive savings proposition to any practice (and especially a solo practice) to eliminate their costly biller. However, this is not a realistic promise, with practices complaining about too aggressive statements being sent out by athenaClinicals to their patients that turn folks off, little experience with Medicaid billing, and overpriced fees, particularly with lower volume practices that get charged higher percentage collection rates. Another annoyance is the requirement for a physician practice to be limited to certain banks that AthenaHealth approves to receive their payments, and also a delay of a few days for the funds to be received into the account.
The pricing for athenaClinicals, similar to other EHR products, is not available on the website. While this makes it a challenge to comparison shop between competing solutions, at least Athenahealth makes it simple as they do provide a link prominently on their website to “Schedule a 1:1 meeting,” to facilitate obtaining the custom pricing.
While there is no free trial, a free demo is offered.
The options for support are limited to only online, and during business hours. At least training gets offered via more possibilities, which includes options for webinars, live online, in person, and via documentation.
The supported platforms are also hampered, with the only option via a web browser. While this may be the simplest in this day and age, as just about every computer and device with a web browser can then gain access to athenaClinicals, just be aware up front that you won’t be able to install the software directly to your Windows desktop, or get a slick app for your mobile device platform of choice. Additionally, no data gets stored locally, as athenaClinicals is a SaaS, with all data hosted in ‘The Cloud.’
Athenahealth offers a robust platform for an EHR, with many useful features. It focuses more on the physician practice market than on larger institutions, with useful features for e-prescribing with PDMP, clinic note writing and accounting. While the integrated billing has particular attraction for smaller physician practices that generally do not have a dedicated billing department, the shortcomings should give these practices pause before adopting this platform. On balance, Athenahealth, with their athenaClinicals EHR platform offers a comprehensive solution to both the clinical, and the business side of a physician practice.
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