Paul Holmes 19 Jun 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
At the beginning of SHI’s engagement with athenahealth.com, the company had just signed it’s first customer. Now, one short year later, more than 300 physicians use its service with 700 in the implementation pipeline. Through this example, the SHI team demonstrates the significant positive impact a strategic, well-executed PR program can have on a client’s business goals.
INTRODUCTION TO THE HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY
Health care has been plagued with expensive, complex, disparate information systems that cannot be easily integrated to meet operational or clinical needs. These systems cost payers, providers and patients significant time and money. In fact, according to WIT Capital, healthcare spending reached $1 trillion. For the time period, Hambrecht & Quist researchers estimated that $250 billion of this amount was wasted due to redundant, inefficient processes. athenahealth.com seeks to reduce this waste through Web-based medical practice management services, which integrate insurance knowledge with workflow, billing and collections. Ultimately, reimbursement errors and overhead are virtually eliminated – performance that traditional client-server systems like IDX, Medical Manger and Medic cannot replicate.
In December 1999 healthcare IT start-up athenahealth.com approached SHI knowing who they were and who they wanted to be. Unfortunately, no one else did. As a young company with a new service in a burgeoning marketplace, establishing visibility and credibility represented both the challenge and the imperative. Knowing that Application Service Providers (ASPs) promised to garner significant coverage in the coming year, SHI identified the opportunity to position athenahealth.com and its management team as experts in an emerging category. By leveraging this trend, SHI was able to elevate athenahealth.com and its service offering above the noise.
Through research of industry analyst reports and vertical trade publications*, SHI determined that, over the prior 10-14 months, the eHealth arena had become crowded with a multitude of new companies. Industry analysts dissected the field into three segments: content, commerce and connectivity. athenahealth.com fell into the connectivity category, facing significant competition, particularly from established industry giant Healtheon/WebMD.
The analyst reports and publications also discussed the substantial barriers to entry in this marketplace, highlighting:
Healthcare’s aversion to technology, which resulted in a 10-year lag compared to other industries’ adoption rate.
Fiscal constraints caused by inefficient administrative processes and reductions in reimbursement rates.
With respect to these barriers, athenahealth.com had to convince prospects to completely reconsider existing business practices, oust legacy information technology systems – many of which had not been amortized – and trust this young company over any other with their cash flow.
To gain recognition and acceptance, athenahealth.com needed to:
- Heighten awareness about the significant impact of healthcare’s administrative waste thereby conveying the need for athenahealth.com’s services.
- Convey the value of ASP technology in dramatically reducing these overhead costs by leveraging the editorial interest in ASPs at that time within healthcare in order to garner coverage.
- Differentiate its offering from that of its competitors by elucidating the significant benefits and low risk of athenahealth.com’s services over legacy (client-server) practice management systems.
SHI determined that the best way to meet these objectives was through the education of influential parties – physicians, managing partners of medical groups, medical practice managers and physician association administrators. To raise athenahealth.com’s profile, SHI established the company’s senior executives as expert resources who could depict the root of healthcare’s financial woes, discuss concerns about new technology and articulate the financial benefits of ASPs.
SHI identified top trade publications (e.g. Medical Group Management Journal, Group Practice Journal, Healthcare Management Technology, Healthcare Business) as crucial vehicles in reaching these key decision making constituencies. Additionally, SHI researched tradeshows well attended by this target audience.
SHI’s PR campaign employed four methods to bring athenahealth.com and its service to the forefront of the industry:
Industry Analyst Briefings: To build a foundation for tactical efforts, SHI arranged for athenahealth.com’s CEO to meet with eHealth analysts. This put the Company on the “radar screen” and helped build a reputation among the thought leaders whose opinions trickle down through media quotes, industry reports and vendor recommendations. Continued contact and updates regarding athenahealth.com successes supported its rising position within the field of competitors.
Bylined Articles: SHI proactively approached athenahealth.com’s top vertical media outlets and secured opportunities to author stories about ASP technology, how it can be leveraged in healthcare and the dramatic benefits that can be realized. These pieces were “vendor-neutral,” elevating athenahealth.com’s CEO to a healthcare industry expert rather than “another IT guy selling a solution.”
Proactive Media Relations: SHI utilized existing relationships with healthcare IT editors and reporters to pitch trend stories about the administrative headaches facing the industry and the emergence of a technological cure – ASPs. SHI bolstered these efforts by offering additional resources, such as analyst commentary, feedback from physicians using ASPs and insight provided by athenahealth.com’s CEO.
Speaking Engagements: athenahealth.com’s educated sales prospects about the ASP value proposition through lectures and workshops conducted by the Company’s CEO. SHI secured these opportunities at prestigious industry tradeshows and conferences, creating accessibility and credibility through personal contact – essential elements to athenahealth.com’s industry expert status.
Initially, the back office work which athenahealth.com’s brand of ASP addressed didn’t hold a lot of media “sex appeal.” At the time, clinical applications with a strong consumer benefit were gaining most of the attention. SHI overcame these objections by letting the statistics speak for themselves. Pitches were framed by the larger impact of administrative inefficiency in the industry – accounting for $250 billion in waste annually. SHI also leveraged analyst predictions the market size of Web-based transactions in the coming years – $224 billion in claims by 2004 (Forrester Research, 1/20/00).
SHI successfully raised visibility for athenahealth.com, a start-up with no industry recognition, battling for exposure in a sea of “eHealth solutions.” By bring attention to the issues that drive the company’s business while educating target audiences about the benefits of Web-based services in curing healthcare’s “administrative headaches,” the team was able to create buzz around athenahealth.com – elevating them from a new kid on the block to viable and known contender.
Editorial achievements included:
Six bylined articles in top-tier publications read by key influencers (ADVANCE for Health Information Executives, ADVANCE for Health Information Professionals, Group Practice Journal, Managed Healthcare News, Medical Group Management Journal and Health Management Technology (2)) with a total circulation of more than 200,000.
athenahealth.com, its executive team and its customers were also featured in eight significant articles about ASPs in healthcare. These healthcare trade publications (ADVANCE for Health Information Executives, For The Record, Healthcare Business, Healthcare Informatics/e.MD, Internet Healthcare (2), Physicians Financial News, Scottsdale Institute) account for a total combined circulation of more than 316,000.
athenahealth.com was cited in an industry analyst report resulting directly from a briefing about the Company’s technology. SHI then leveraged this report in a pitch about ASPs, resulting in two feature stories in healthcare IT and business publications for which athenahealth.com and its customer were contributing sources.
Additionally, SHI secured 28 speaking engagements at conferences such as Symposium for eHealthcare Strategies, Center for Healthcare Information Management (CHIM), Technologic Partners Healthcare Outlook and the American Medical Group Association Annual National Conference.
Persistent media outreach and the culmination of other tactical approaches also led to athenahealth.com being chosen as one of the “25 Most Influential Forces in Healthcare IT” by ADVANCE for Health Information Executives and “Investors Choice” at Technologic Partners’ Healthcare Outlook 2000.
Source Note: *Pacific Growth Equities (eHealth: Healthcare in the Internet Age, 6/18/99), WIT Capital (,The eHealth Industry, 5/26/99), Hambrecht & Quist (The health.net Industry, 1/8/99), J.C. Bradford & Co. (The Internet in Healthcare: The Final Frontier, 8/31/99), ADVANCE for HIE, Healthcare Business, Modern Physician, Physicians Financial News, Health Data Management, Healthcare Informatics, Health Management Technology, Modern Healthcare, et. Al.