Emerging Health Leaders: Michael Palantoni of Athenahealth

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MHE Publication, MHE October 2021, Volume 3, Issue 10

Michael Palantoni is one of 13 up-and-coming health leaders featured in this annual Managed Healthcare Executive series.

Michael Palantoni, vice president of platform services at Athenahealth in Watertown, Massachusetts

I grew up outside of New York City and graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in systems engineering. Prior to my current role at Athenahealth, I was a management consultant at Deloitte Consulting, where I specialized in healthcare and technology.

Some of my formative leadership experiences at Athenahealth have been leading our patient engagement teams and running the Athenahealth Marketplace (app store) business. These have been great opportunities to learn from consumer-focused executives and to have front-row seats to the explosive growth of the health-tech ecosystem over the past five years.

At Deloitte, I worked on the firm’s response to the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, which involved building models for how meaningful use requirements and funding would impact the industry. This was my introduction into healthcare technology strategy.

Who has had the greatest influence on your life?

On a personal level, definitely my wife. We’ve been together since we were 19, and she has been my consultant for virtually every major decision of my adult life. She’s incredibly mission driven and really grounds me. From a pure career perspective, I was fortunate to work with a unique group of senior people at Deloitte who showed me what could be possible with technology in healthcare at an early career stage. That influenced me to consider how I could best use technology in the healthcare space.

Why did you pursue a career in healthcare?

My mom battled and ultimately passed away from cancer and its complications during the four years I was in high school. During those years, I struggled to find an outlet for processing this and ended up channeling it into my education at college, my career and my purpose.

I became very focused on healthcare and medicine. I shadowed staff in various medical areas at a hospital and worked on a project to evaluate provider-to-provider communication in a new hospitalist program. I believe they gave me this project as an internal experiment. Ultimately, I discovered I really enjoyed this type of “systems thinking” work as an outlet for both my purpose and strengths.

Which career accomplishment has given you the greatest satisfaction?

I built a platform services business that enables others to innovate in healthcare quickly and effectively. This involved starting with a business plan, selling it to initial customers and then leading the product team to grow its capabilities. Seeing it launch as a mainstream part of our business has been an incredible journey.

I can’t think of anything more rewarding than enabling others’ innovation in healthcare delivery and patient experiences.

What has your organization’s role been in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines?

Over the past year, Athenahealth has built a significant number of COVID-19 vaccine workflows in real time to help provider organizations create and administer vaccine delivery programs.

What would be the best way to reduce healthcare inequities in the U.S.?

I don’t think there’s a single best way. If you look at the challenges the healthcare industry is facing in addressing inequalities and access to care, they are multifactorial. There must be a layered approach that looks at everything from social determinants of health to local healthcare access levels to addressing clinical biases.

Name a book or article that everyone in healthcare should read.

“The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, From the Freemasons to Facebook”by Niall Ferguson is a great primer on network theory and strategies. A key insight in the book is how people and organizations that are connected to more things are generally more resilient and influential in times of change. For example, a supply chain with only one supplier is more likely to be very brittle and might create risks for that company during a crisis like COVID-19. In healthcare, there are many implications for how providers build referral networks and how their design impacts access, quality and costs for patients.