Humana makes EHR play with AthenaHealth

Clinics are choosing masters this summer, and Humana is now in that game.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

For the second time in about a week, a major insurer has announced a tie-up with a tech company, aiming to provide cloud-based Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems to clinics.

Last week it was IBM and Aetna. This week it's Humana and athenaHealth.

The latter always raises eyebrows in Washington, because its CEO is a Bush. As I have noted here, his relatives are not the point, and should not be the point.

The point is EHRs as a service. With the first meaningful use deadline looming, clinics know they don't have time to buy-and-install hardware if they want that sweet, sweet stimulus cash. SaaS is the way to go, and Jonathan Bush sells that message.

In selling EHRs, however, channels matter. Clinics are choosing which of their channel partners matter most, and aligning themselves accordingly. My doctor decided his hospital was most important. Insurers like Humana think they can convince clinics they are.

Humana says it will subsidize the EHR service, athenaClinicals, for about 1,000 doctors among the roughly 20,000 who are part of its health plans. That may be just a first step. If this works out it could easily be expanded.

There's a second element in this deal that bears careful scrutiny. Quoting from the press release:

To achieve EHR integration, the program will leverage Humana's relationship with Availity, one of the industry's leading health-information networks, to deliver information captured in the Availity(r) CareProfile(r) to athenahealth. Humana currently delivers health information and clinical messaging regarding its members through the Availity CareProfile; Availity will empower athenaClinicals with this information.

That's the point, my friends. Availity offers an electronic network promising big savings for health plans. So this is a short cut to what UnitedHealth is doing -- tie-up clinics with technology that pushes down costs.

Why would a clinic do this? Because assurance of a private insurance carrier payment stream can guarantee a practice's long-term survival in ways a hospital tie-up can't. Clinics are choosing masters this summer, and Humana is now in that game.

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