For Jonathan Bush, there is life after athenahealth.
The outspoken former chief executive of the Watertown company has landed a new gig as executive chairman of the Boston startup Firefly Health, which aims to provide primary care for patients through an app as well as clinic and employer visits.
Bush invested in the startup in April, but his role in the company is becoming public now as it discloses its first major funding round: $10 million in investments led by the VC firms F-Prime Capital Partners and Oak HC/FT. F-Prime general partner Carl Byers and Oak general partner Nancy Brown will join the firm’s board; both were once executives at athenahealth with Bush.
Bush expects to devote at least half of his time in the near future to Firefly, offering guidance to chief executive Andy Ellner, but it will remain a part-time job. “I want to make sure I don’t overcrowd the CEO,” Bush said.
Bush cofounded athenahealth, an IT firm for health care providers, in 1997 and became the face of the company as it grew to be a large employer in Watertown. He resigned in 2018 amid a clash with activist investor Elliott Management, which orchestrated a takeover of the company.
Bush has long lambasted the waste and excess bureaucracy endemic to the health care system; making the system more efficient was a driving force at athenahealth.
Firefly takes that to a new level: Patients can use the app to get answers to health questions or to order prescriptions. A primary care clinic in Wellesley serves them when face-to-face meetings are necessary. The app can also connect patients to the appropriate specialists.
“We have this extraordinary base of medical science, but we have a delivery system that is financially and intellectually bankrupt,” Bush said. “To me, Firefly represents not just a great business but a great solution for Massachusetts remaining a great medical center.”
The state’s main insurance plans cover Firefly interactions, and Bush believes the model can be expanded on a national scale, connecting clinics and patients in other states. Bush said the two-year-old company, now with 30 employees, essentially began marketing its services in the spring.
Michael Sherman, chief medical officer at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, said the Wellesley insurer currently reimburses for Firefly services as it would with a standard fee-for-service model.
But Sherman said Harvard Pilgrim is intrigued by changes at Firefly that would involve a more holistic approach. He sees Firefly as an option that would be valued by younger, healthier millennials who don’t need frequent doctor visits.
“Jonathan is a visionary,” Sherman said. “We do like their model and their vision, and we’re in the process of figuring out how we work with them most effectively.”