athenahealth CEO: ‘Make It Clear How You’ll Change the World’

August 26, 2017

Jonathan Bush is the co-founder and CEO of athenahealth, a provider of cloud-based software for the healthcare industry. The company had $1 billion in 2016 revenues, and employs about 4,600 people. In 2014, it started a program called More Disruption Please, which offers startups a way to plug into the athenahealth ecosystem and gain access to new customers.

This interview is from our CEOs on Innovation report, in the Fall 2017 issue of InnoLead magazine.

How do you think about fostering new experiments and innovation to drive growth? What creates the urgency?

Healthcare is unique when it comes to innovation. With all the billions of dollars invested into purchasing, building, and upgrading technology, we are still living in a world where patients carry around physical records, providers struggle to get paid, and treasure troves of data are inaccessible. There is a desperate need for healthcare to be better connected, which many believe (me too!) would lead to decreased costs, improved patient outcomes, and an overall better experience within the health system. Sadly, we lack a national infrastructure to do it right. For me, this creates urgency.

At athenahealth, we’re focused on unleashing our collective potential to transform healthcare. We focus on projects that deepen our services and extend the value we bring to clients and other stakeholders; scale our services to grow within new and existing markets; and position us as the strongest connective tissue between the various disparate care settings and many players of the industry. If the concept doesn’t fall into one of these three categories, it doesn’t move forward.  

athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush

Can you talk about the More Disruption Please program? Why did you start it? What impact do you think it has had so far?

We started MDP to solve a double-sided problem with healthcare innovation—entrepreneurs couldn’t scale their businesses, and providers were only ever offered “one size fits all” solutions. MDP brings together innovators and helps them build and distribute through the athenahealth platform, while allowing our providers to plug and play solutions and tailor their experience.

Since inception, the MDP Marketplace has scaled to support over 160 apps, and over 27 percent of our providers use at least one of our solutions. The key performance indicators for MDP have changed over time, but we look closely at adoption among the client base, the speed at which a new app can be published, and how quickly leads are closing for the partners that distribute through us…

While MDP acts as its own vertical, they work very closely with our internal teams to ensure that we constantly add to our API library and make our internal work accessible to external innovators. One of the key purposes of MDP is to shine a light on how fast innovators are moving in the wild to help athenahealth move faster.  

If you were talking to someone who is a head of R&D, or head of new ventures, at a large company about how to work with their CEO and have a constructive relationship, what advice would you give?

Position everything around the value it will create. Make clear how you’ll change the world in a way that no one else can. If this framing can’t work, go back to the drawing board.