As 2021 comes to a close, I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year. Unlike previous years where my annual summary included talking about the fantastic year we had at Azara, all of the cities and states our staff visited and the variety of achievements by our customers, team and company—2021 is different. We exited 2020 with a sobering view of how all our worlds could change on a dime and how many of the things we hold dear could be at risk almost overnight.
The fact that we were still able to operate our business and keep our staff employed and even grow throughout all of this madness was something not to be taken for granted, and we know that there are still many folks out there struggling to make ends meet. We see what you, those on the front lines, have faced and we applaud your hard work, selfless sacrifice and the downright resilience you have shown to assure your patients, many of whom have no other options for healthcare, are well cared for under these most difficult of circumstances.
We all entered 2021 with optimism. We had vaccines, a new administration and hope for a better tomorrow. While not all of our forward-looking prognostications came true in 2021, and the end of year COVID situation is troubling, I think we still end the year in a better place than where we began. 2021 was not without its challenges and was filled with many ups and downs here at Azara. For me personally and professionally, it was a big, challenging, rollercoaster ride. The year started on a high note with the December 2020 announcement of Azara taking on an investment partner in Hughes & Company and simultaneously merging in the Population Health business of SPH Analytics.
Spring was filled with excitement as we brought the two companies together and began to combine systems and products while vaccines rolled out across the nation and world. In May, Azara held another informative and invigorating User Conference, albeit online. Early summer brought me the pleasure and pride of watching my daughter graduate from college and my son from high school, and at the same time brought the sadness associated with the loss of my dad and mother-in-law, all in a span of just 10 weeks. Late summer brought more ups as we were able to successfully migrate the first SPH clients onto DRVS, close down the legacy SPH data center, and roll out new DRVS functionality around Care Effectiveness.
Fall brought the introduction of COVID boosters and the scramble associated with the need for the associated reporting; our team once again rallied quickly to meet the requirements of our clients. We also rolled out what we affectionately call “Activity Tracker” to our first client (more on this in 2022). In late November, our team suffered an unspeakable loss with the death of our longtime friend and colleague, Heather Budd.
Being a perpetual optimist, I can only reflect and hope that 2021’s ups and downs were there to prepare us all for the great things that lie ahead for 2022 and the opportunities and challenges that await us.
Annual User Conference:
In May, more than 500 Azara users joined us from across the nation at our fifth Annual User Conference. While we were hoping to be back “in person” in 2021, our team and our clients did a great job lining up excellent content and fostering high quality virtual networking opportunities. The agenda was packed full, and we were fortunate to have a large number of outstanding guest and customer presenters, highlighted by an excellent presentation from Angela Boyer, Chief Strategy Officer of the Indiana Primary Care Association, who spoke passionately about her and her team’s journey to create a data driven, quality improvement network and specifically, the impact that it has on the patients of their member health centers. I continue to be overwhelmed and humbled by the enthusiasm and dedication of our customers. We are planning to be back “in person” in 2022 and hope you will join us May 2-4, here in Boston. Registration will open in early February and more info can be found at here. If you are interested in presenting, the Call for Abstracts is open until January 21 st.
In June of this year, Azara received its 2 nd Interim HITRUST compliance certificate, as this program is on a two-year cycle for full audits, with partial “interim” audits done in the alternating years. HITRUST Certified verifies that Azara has set up and maintains the Common Security Framework (CSF) which combines nationally and internationally accepted standards including ISO, NIST, PCI and HIPAA to ensure a comprehensive set of baseline security controls. While this continues to be a critical milestone for us, the responsible stewardship of your patient data is of utmost importance, and we will continue to invest in the people, processes, technology and programs necessary to keep your data safe. We are already gearing up for our 3 rd full HITRUST audit, scheduled for early spring.
In September, Azara received certification from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) for 35 HEDIS ® Measure Year (MY) 2021 Health Plan and Allowable Adjustments Measures, and in mid-December we completed the NCQA’s inaugural Data Aggregator Validation (DAV) program—an exhaustive review of the Process, Systems and Data standards as well as the Output Data Integrity standards which Azara follows to provide clinical data to payers for use as standard supplemental data for HEDIS ®.
Like other years, we went into 2021 with a roadmap and plan containing a large list of enhancements and new functionality. Of course, COVID has shown us that the best laid plans are subject to change at any moment. In addition to that long list of what we wanted to accomplish this year, the Azara Team spent significant time and effort creating measures, reports, dashboards and outreach programs to assist our clients in administering and tracking COVID vaccines. Unlike most other vaccine reporting, the COVID vaccine measures were constantly moving targets with multiple vaccines, differing delivery intervals, changing age ranges and a variety of combinations that constituted “fully vaccinated”. Add to that the introduction of boosters and vaccines for children in the later portion of the year, and you have one big pile of unplanned work. I feel our team did an excellent job delivering this functionality in a timely manner and we hope it met your needs.
Over the summer, we rolled out the first of our Care Effectiveness Reports (CER) that moved Azara’s quality reporting beyond the measurement of traditional compliance “care gaps”. Instead of focusing on the binary target of closing gaps or meeting a specific threshold, such as A1C<7, CER functionality allows the care team to monitor and manage the long-term trajectory and progress of a patient—such as a patient with severe depression whose PHQ score may never meet the threshold for true remission, but whose disease state requires constant attention to be managed at a level that allows the patient to function and enjoy a better quality of life. These reports were very well received by our clients. As we closed out the year, we made two new, highly anticipated enhancements: a new report for managing Childhood Wellness adherence and the other an expansion of our Immunization Report to support patients and immunization requirements up to 18 years of age.
This year, we also significantly increased the capabilities of DRVS. With many of our clients preparing to enter into value-based contracts, the integration of payer data remained a priority as we continued to enhance DRVS’s ability for tracking attribution, risk stratification, as well as enabling better reconciliation of care gaps between clinical and claims data. It is clear that our clients continue to advance down this path, and we saw a meaningful increase in the number of clients with access to payer data (enrollment, care gaps and claims) from their managed care plans.
In 2021, Azara again expanded its role as the “data hub” in a variety of areas. We successfully connected to additional Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) bringing the number to 14 HIE’s from which we are now receiving hospital admit/discharge/transfer information for patients of our clients. We also took on a much more prominent role in provision of clinical data to third parties on behalf of our clients, enabling DRVS users to leverage the curated clinical data within DRVS. These third parties included national and regional managed care companies, Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and academic medical centers.
In 2021, Azara continued to increase both its client base and its revenue, strengthening our balance sheet and assuring we can continue to invest in ongoing innovations. We added sixteen new staff members, enhancing our capabilities and capacity in all areas of our business. We more than doubled our clinical transformation team and began the formation of a formal account management function to assure all our clients are getting the necessary attention they need to be successful with our products. As we look ahead to 2022, we will continue to invest in the resources necessary to assure our products meet your needs and our staff has the time to give your projects adequate attention.
While I feel this year was successful on many fronts, I am even more energized for 2022. The breadth and depth of opportunities that we plan to address with our clients and partners next year is enormous. We look forward to helping you solve new problems and introducing innovative solutions and functionality that can assist you in accomplishing your mission. I also expect the heightened awareness the pandemic has brought around the availability and access to high-quality data and information in healthcare settings to continue its acceleration. I urge you to look at your data early and often and to find ways to integrate data into your day-to-day operations and delivery of care. A high-performing care team can’t operate to the best of its abilities without useful data.
Lastly, on behalf of all of us at Azara, I want to thank you, our clients and partners, for your unwavering support through thick and thin. It is an honor to be able to serve you and your teams as you work tirelessly, in very challenging conditions, to assure that no patient—no matter the circumstances—goes without the healthcare services they need. Hopefully, Azara’s assistance has in some way aided you in accomplishing your mission and goals this year.
We offer our best wishes for a happy holiday season and a healthy, plentiful, and COVID free new year.