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athenahealth Review

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko

Medical software platforms generate a lot of data, and they receive even more data from other points of care. To understand that information, as well as financial performance, practices need to rely on sophisticated reporting tools that make complex databases easy to organize and understand. Athenahealth's medical software includes one of the most powerful and comprehensive reporting modules of the systems we reviewed. It not only allows users to slice and dice data with customizable reports but also compares the performance of a practice to that of more than 160,000 other providers in Athenahealth's network. For these reasons, athenahealth is our pick for the best medical software for reporting.

athenahealth

athenahealth

The Verdict

Athenahealth offers medical software with powerful custom reporting tools and an expansive network of providers to serve as a baseline comparison. However, some users may find the system difficult to use.

Athenahealth Editor's Score: 8.6/10

Ease of use 7/10
Pricing 9/10
Consultation 10/10
Customization 9/10
Patient portal 8/10

Why We Chose Athenahealth for Reporting

Athenahealth offers highly customizable reports that can be generated weekly or monthly. These reports and the level of customizability surpass those of most other medical software we reviewed. Users can apply a wide array of filters to the reports to see the exact information they want, arranged however they want it. The flexibility of athenahealth's reporting tool is exceptional – among the best we reviewed. However, that's not the only reason we selected athenahealth as the best medical software for reporting.

More than 160,000 providers in the athenahealth network feed performance-related data back to a central database. That way, practices can compare their performance with a baseline, as well as with top performers on the network. If a practice falls short of its key performance indicators or the athenaNet average, a representative will reach out and help guide the practice to correct the problem based on the data athenaNet has received from thriving practices. None of the other services we reviewed offer this feature.

Bottom LineBottom Line: Athenahealth helps coach practices based on what works for other practices in its network. Falling below the baseline performance level will prompt an athenahealth coach to contact your practice.

athenahealth
Athenahealth's reporting module allows providers to apply various filters to visualize data.

What We Like About Athenahealth

  • Athenahealth's reporting tools are among the most flexible and customizable of the medical software we reviewed.
  • A consultative approach helps guide practices that fall below athenaNet's baseline performance for similar practices.

What We Don't Like About Athenahealth

  • Athenahealth is not the most user-friendly software we encountered in our reviews.
  • We were unable to obtain even a ballpark quote from the company.

Ease of Use

Athenahealth isn't the most intuitive or user-friendly system we encountered in our reviews. Training is likely required for most users. The software employs quite a few drop-down menus, which we found clunky to navigate. Additionally, the system requires users to begin by selecting a patient before moving forward with appointment scheduling, registration or other front-office tasks.

As a result, we found that we had to return to the home screen each time we completed a task just to navigate to the next part of the system, rather than being able to navigate seamlessly from tool to tool. This type of "start at the beginning again" rhythm sometimes felt interruptive.

Overall, there is a small learning curve with athenahealth, and a few core processes take several steps. Fortunately, athenahealth offers role-based training, which can help new users quickly acclimate to the intricacies of the user interface. However, if you prefer a more intuitive experience, see our review of Kareo, our top pick for easy-to-use medical software.

Medical Practice Management Features

Athenahealth's standout feature is its reporting module. However, the software also offers all of the other core features we looked for in medical software, including appointment scheduling, flexible clinical templates and medical billing services.

Athenahealth offers all of the major features we looked for in practice management software, plus access to a vast network that helps the system consistently update its recommendations to clients. The company particularly shines in reporting and in managing the business end of medical practice operations. These are some of the key features:

AthenaNet

Access to athenaNet, the company's network of more than 160,000 healthcare providers and 100 million patients, is a primary benefit of partnering with athenahealth. The company leverages this network to constantly update its billing engine of more than 40 million rules to identify common denials and changes in payer policies, and also to provide advice to medical practices on how to boost their performance. The company monitors top performers in the network to help struggling medical practices replicate top performers' models when key performance indicators drop off, which is a helpful feature for new or small practices.

Reporting

Athenahealth maintains a robust reporting module that goes well beyond the functionality of any other medical software we reviewed. You can view weekly or monthly reports and customize them in virtually any way. The amount of data that can be filtered is almost overwhelming (in a good way) – a major positive for practices that want to improve by leveraging data-driven insights.

This revenue overview shows a practice's charges versus the money collected, as well as recent trends.

athenahealth
Athenahealth delivers recommendations and goals (left) to improve revenue.

The workflow dashboard for the reporting tool features dozens of key metrics of your medical practice's performance. These include information about collections by payer, days in accounts receivable and common reasons for denials. Quarterly, an athenahealth customer success manager schedules a meeting with you to review these reports and find opportunities to improve your key metrics – something the other medical software we reviewed did not offer. The dashboard also displays your practice's performance against the athenaNet average, so you can regularly see how your practice compares to similar practices that use athenahealth.

Athenahealth also monitors front-office information, such as canceled appointments and no-shows. You can use this information to improve the way you send appointment reminders and set scheduling policies. The software also tracks the most common codes you send to payers and the collections you bring in from them, thus helping you identify your most lucrative revenue streams. Anytime you fall below athenaNet's benchmarks in any of these areas, a customer success manager offers to arrange a meeting to address the issue. This type of consultative approach is uncommon throughout the medical software space and thus distinguishes athenahealth.

Patient Portal

Athenahealth's practice management software has a patient portal where patients can request appointments or prescription refills and send secure, HIPAA-compliant messages. The portal also allows patients to update their demographics, preferred pharmacy, current medications and allergy information. Staff can use the patient portal to request payment on outstanding balances and send appointment reminders. Any updates a patient makes to their information via the portal will be pushed through to the electronic medical records (EMR) system for review by clinical staff. This is a standard feature we found across most of our medical software reviews.

Through the patient portal, medical practices can target outreach campaigns to specific subsets of patients. For example, patients with an upcoming annual physical can receive customized messages from the practice through the portal. Patients can also offer feedback or answer surveys in the portal, thereby helping the practice improve the patient experience.

Patient portals can be branded with the practice's logo and color scheme, making it feel more like the client's website than athenahealth's.

FYIFYI: The standout feature of athenahealth's extensive medical practice management software is the athenaNet reporting module, which offers benchmark targets based on data collected from over 150,000 providers in athenahealth's network.

Appointment Scheduling

Athenahealth's scheduling tool has a central dashboard that provides an overview of scheduled appointments alongside patient and billing information. The calendar view makes it easy to set new appointments and register new patients on the spot. To set a new appointment, select a patient from the list of registered patients, and set the desired date and time. The calendar displays scheduled appointments by provider or location. Once an appointment is scheduled, recurring reminders can be sent directly to the patient by text, email or phone. Athenahealth offers A/B testing to determine which method of reminder is most effective for your patients, which is a unique feature that not all medical software providers offer.

When a patient arrives for their appointment, they can be checked in through the scheduling tool. This involves the patient filling out or updating missing information and completing any intake forms associated with their appointment type. This process can be expedited with athenaCapture, which takes a snapshot of documentation such as a driver's license or insurance card.

The information on these documents can be pulled directly from the card and imported into the system automatically. You can set custom fields in the scheduler and flag them as mandatory. The appointment cannot move forward until mandatory fields are filled out.

Insurance Eligibility Verification

Once a patient is checked in, their insurance information appears on the screen, along with their expected co-pay and deductible. Front-office staff can capture any copayments or outstanding balances directly at the point of care, thus improving patient collections and minimizing the days in accounts receivable. This is an essential feature we looked for in all of our medical software reviews.

We like that athenahealth can also manage payment plans for patients who can't pay on the spot by allowing them to set up an auto-debit schedule with the approval of your medical practice.

Additionally, athenahealth monitors the efficiency of your registration and scheduling process by identifying bottlenecks and slowdowns. If there are inefficiencies, athenahealth not only alerts you but also provides recommendations for optimizing the process.

FYIFYI: Athenahealth also offers medical billing services. See our review of athenahealth's revenue cycle management service for more information.

Billing

Athenahealth's billing tools are highly effective and rely largely on athenaNet to help clients optimize their financial performance beyond what many medical software companies offer. However, when you sign up for revenue cycle management and medical billing services, you are still required to keep an in-house medical biller – a drawback for any medical billing service. This staff member is specifically responsible for the creation of E&M codes and charge posting.

At this point, athenahealth takes over, pulling patient insurance information to review ICD-10 and CPT codes, and scrubbing claims before submission. Athenahealth scrubs claims within eight seconds of receipt and promises most claims will be paid in two or three business days.

For every percentage point below 95% of unposted claims not worked out within three days, athenahealth reimburses your medical practice 2% of the value. Similarly, if athenahealth does not manage 95% of denials within 10 business days of a rejection notice, the company refunds you the value of those claims.

Athenahealth staff also monitor your contractual agreements with payers to ensure you are being paid what you are owed. Once per quarter, athenahealth sends payers bills for the balances of underpaid claims. Moreover, any claims that are paid out at $0 are pursued daily by athenahealth's billing staff.

athenahealth
Athenahealth's reports include tips and explainers to help users contextualize the data. In this view, the software displays a list of procedures (as coded claims) that are a drag on a practice's performance.

EMR Features

Despite the slight learning curve, athenahealth offers unique features for both clinical and office staff. Here are the core features of the athenaClinicals EMR solution:

Calendar

Front-office staff and clinical providers can view the calendar in a daily, weekly or monthly format. You can also use the quick reference tabs to see how many scheduled patients are currently in the office and how many encounters have already occurred, as well as view outstanding appointment requests by unscheduled patients and any lab or imaging orders that are available for review.

The scheduling tool lists each patient, the time and type of their appointment, and the current status of their visit, along with their name, age and profile picture. You can click these tiles to view more detailed patient information. AthenaClinicals also maintains a portal where patients can access the system remotely to obtain their lab results, request and schedule appointments, request prescription refills and make payments online.

The portal also allows patients to communicate securely with their providers. The athenahealth team can work with your practice to boost patient enrollment and use of the portal, which can be accessed via desktop or any iOS device.

TipTip: Each provider can customize the calendar to appear in the format that is most useful to them, thus helping them focus on their patients while the staff maintains a holistic view.

Intake

During patient intake, providers can review a checklist on the left side of the screen, which includes information such as family history, medical history, allergies and medications. Patients can also be placed into a specific exam room. This useful feature, which not all medical software vendors offer, helps guide providers through the encounter.

We like the Vitals tab, which allows midlevel providers to record vitals or automatically import vitals from a connected medical device. Providers can also review a 13-month medication history through Athenahealth's integration with Surescripts.

During intake, a Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) / Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) tool runs in the background so that clinical staff members know what information or procedures are required to qualify for Meaningful Use standards.

Clinical Notes

During an exam, nurses and doctors operate within the patient's chart. Here, providers can view more detailed information about individual patients, including allergies, medications, problems and diagnoses. Patient vitals captured on intake appear on the right side of the screen, along with a history of their last visit and any recent activity, such as prescriptions filled.

In the charting tool, it is easy to view different types of patient information. Providers can cycle through tabs that display each area of information, including any previous notes. The charting tool allows providers to use templates, free text or voice to record information about the encounter. Templates are customizable and can be tethered to different appointment types. For example, providers might use one custom template for a consultation and another for a follow-up. Providers can customize templates for patients with recurring visits for specific conditions.

By clicking the Medications tab, you can review a patient's active medications and medication history. Athenahealth's insurance eligibility check shows prescriptions that have been refilled recently. You can also order new prescriptions and check if they could negatively interact with existing medications or patient allergies. Similarly, under the Labs tab, you can review any recent lab results a patient might have received or order new lab tests directly within the system.

One strong feature of athenahealth is that patient chart layouts are largely customizable; you can modify the view as if each text box of information under each tab were an individual widget. This customization allows you to adapt athenaClinicals to your workflow, even if other staff members at your practice use the system differently.

Bottom LineBottom Line: Athenahealth's EMR system, athenaClinicals, offers customizable templates and notes, which can be useful for providers to tailor the system to suit their preferences.

Pricing

Athenahealth declined to offer a ballpark estimate for pricing. However, according to online reviews, the company offers its EMR software as a stand-alone product for $140 per month per provider. This rate does not include the cost of the medical practice management software or medical billing tools that most practices need.

Although you must speak with a sales representative to receive a price quote customized to your practice's circumstances and specialty, it's important to remember that implementation costs, such as data migration and training, can run beyond $5,000 upfront. Overall, though, given these numbers, athenahealth is competitively priced medical software that delivers an extremely powerful data-driven network as a bonus.

Implementation

For new practices, the implementation should take only about a month, which is one of the quickest implementation processes we found in our research of medical software vendors. For existing practices with data migration needs, it is generally a longer process.

During the implementation process, your practice is paired with a customer success manager who acts as your liaison with the company. Dedicated account managers are common among the best medical software companies. Athenahealth configures the system to suit your workflows, establish any custom templates on both the clinical and administrative sides, and build any desired integrations.

The company also provides training via one-on-one calls, conference calls, and self-guided materials such as videos and literature. The dedicated account manager remains associated with your practice even after implementation – an important element that not every medical software vendor offers. This person serves as your direct line to technical support, and you also have access to a general customer service number.

When implementing athenahealth, you can also benefit from myriad integrations with other systems and applications that have been built since athenahealth was founded. Moreover, athenahealth will build out any desired integrations on behalf of its clients, so even if the connection you want does not already exist, it could with a simple request.

Customer Support

Each athenahealth customer success manager is generally experienced with the specialty of the practice to which they're assigned and can serve as a source of guidance. Additionally, athenahealth offers support for practices that fall below the benchmark performance of similar organizations on athenaNet – a nice touch that few others offer.

athenahealth
Athenahealth's reports show easy-to-understand visualizations that highlight trends over time. These reports include insights and recommendations to help improve key performance indicators or build on past successes.

Limitations

Athenahealth's biggest initial limitation is its learning curve. The patient-centric workflow can become useful to acclimated users, but it is not particularly intuitive for new users. Guided training is a virtual requirement, and athenahealth offers role-specific training for each member of your team.

Additionally, athenahealth's medical billing service, which many medical software clients use as well, does not offer coding services. Even practices that don't currently use billing services but might want to in the future must consider that choosing athenahealth's medical practice management platform means they will have to keep a medical coder on staff even if they choose to outsource their billing down the road. Many other practice management vendors, like DrChrono, do offer charge capture and claims coding services. You can learn more in our full review of DrChrono's medical billing service.

What Is Medical Software?

Medical software is the combination of EMR systems, medical practice management software and medical billing tools. The best medical software offers useful features for every member of a medical practice, from the front office to billing.

It also includes clinical software that assists healthcare providers in engaging with the patient while also taking detailed notes in the way that is most comfortable for them. It also enables patients to engage with their healthcare providers directly via secure messaging inboxes or to update their insurance information before their next visit. Medical software is an increasingly important part of modern healthcare and a prerequisite for success as a healthcare organization.

Methodology

We spent hours researching, analyzing and reviewing medical software, including athenahealth. Our research included software demonstrations, phone interviews and customer service calls. We also analyzed customer service reviews available online, including those listed on the Better Business Bureau website.

When choosing our best pick for reporting, we examined the number and flexibility of reports and the breadth of data included. We chose athenahealth not only for these reasons but also because of the unique way in which it leverages its athenaNet network of 160,000 healthcare providers.

FAQs

Does athenahealth charge implementation and training fees?

Yes. Athenahealth charges implementation and training fees depending on the circumstances of your practice and the scope of services required. These fees can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand or, in some cases, reaching into five figures (though mostly for larger practices).

What is athenahealth's athenaNet?

AthenaNet is a network of more than 160,000 healthcare providers, all leveraging athenahealth's platform. The data shared from these providers improves claims scrubbing by updating the billing rules engine regularly with real-time rejections and denials. Additionally, it provides a benchmark for practices to measure their success against that of similar organizations.

How long does athenahealth implementation take?

Athenahealth implementation can be completed in as little as one month. This was one of the fastest implementation processes we encountered in our reviews.

Bottom Line

We recommend athenahealth for …

  • Data-driven practices that want deep insight into their performance and similar practices.
  • Tech-savvy teams that will be able to acclimate to new software quickly.
  • Growing organizations that need information to inform strategic expansions.

We don't recommend athenahealth for …

  • Practices that want an easy-to-use, off-the-shelf solution.

Organizations that are considering outsourcing their medical coding.

Image Credit: Getty Images
athenahealth

athenahealth

The Verdict

Athenahealth offers medical software with powerful custom reporting tools and an expansive network of providers to serve as a baseline comparison. However, some users may find the system difficult to use.

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
business.com Staff
Adam Uzialko is a writer and editor at business.com and Business News Daily. He has 7 years of professional experience with a focus on small businesses and startups. He has covered topics including digital marketing, SEO, business communications, and public policy. He has also written about emerging technologies and their intersection with business, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.