athenahealth attempts to tackle physician burnout through medical coding

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Provider burnout is a persistent problem in healthcare, and it has only been made worse by the added pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. To address this, software and services company athenahealth has rolled out its new Medical Coding solution that aims to ease the administrative burden caused by coding-related work that slows providers down and delays claim submissions.

With the service, athenahealth customers will gain access to coding support via certified specialists who help deliver medical coding within the platform. Communication between the practice and athenahealth’s medical coders is integrated directly into the interface and launches from the provider’s workflow. 


Physicians spend an average of 90 minutes after hours focused on coding work, according to time and productivity studies conducted by athenahealth. Freeing up that time would ostensibly allow staff to focus on higher-value work and spend more time with patients.

The tool has already produced tangible results, with Village Pediatrics – a two-clinician pediatrics primary care practice in Seattle – seeing a 50% reduction in clinicians’ time spent coding, a streamlined integration and more billable codes identified.

To be eligible for this service, customers must be live on athenaCollector and athenaClinicals, or the full athenaOne suite. These services are currently available to practices with seven or fewer physicians and will be available to larger customers later this year. 


The pandemic is taking a toll on the mental and emotional wellbeing of physicians, with female physicians and those in critical care and infectious disease reporting the highest burnout rates during the public health emergency, according to findings from a December physician burnout report from Medscape.

Burnout and the stress of the pandemic – including factors such as personal risk, social distancing and financial uncertainty – appeared to diminish physicians’ overall work-life happiness, with only 49% reporting they were happy in 2020, versus 69% pre-pandemic. More than one-third (34%) reported feeling unhappy last year, compared with 19% in 2019.

Nearly 80% of physicians said they felt burned out prior to the pandemic, but one in five said their burnout emerged only last year. Critical care (51%), rheumatology (50%) and infectious disease specialists (49%) ranked among the highest in reporting burnout for the first time since Medscape began surveying on the issue in 2013.

Even prior to the pandemic, burnout among healthcare professionals was a pervasive public health concern, with some studies reporting burnout for more than 50% of clinicians.

One recent study found that reducing provider burden by optimizing flowsheets may have an appreciable effect on this trend.

Most recently, in the 2021 Healthcare Trends Survey Report by staffing solutions company AMN Healthcare, executives identified restoring elective procedures deferred by the COVID-19 pandemic as their primary growth strategy for 2021.

The survey also indicates telehealth management will be the most important skill healthcare executives will need to develop in the coming year.


“We are excited to officially announce our medical coding service, and we are already thrilled with the benefits we are bringing to providers across the network,” said Paul Brient, chief product officer at athenahealth.

“Provider organizations are seeing a 30% reduction in coding-related claim scrubs and coding-related denials, based on data from customers using the service for six months or more.

“We believe this service will help reduce cognitive overload and improve work-life balance for the providers in our country that work tirelessly each day to serve their patients.”


Twitter: @JELagasse

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