There are times when I'd be all in favor of the SEC passing a rule whereby users of non-GAAP accounting would be condemned to some horrible fate. You know, draw-and-quartering, keel-hauling, listening to John Tesh recordings for 24 straight hours -- stuff like that. And with American Healthways' (NASDAQ:AMHC) first quarter in the books, this is one of those times.

Revenue was up 27% for the quarter, and that's a fairly clean and easy number to understand. It was a couple million below the average estimate and more than 7% below the high estimate, but it was still a solid result, and I don't see any reason to get upset about it.

Earnings performance is a whole 'nother kettle of fish. On a straight as-reported basis, net income fell about 17%, and earnings per share came in at $0.18 versus $0.22 last year. But now we turn to some various non-GAAP details. Stock compensation expense shrunk earnings this quarter by $0.06, as did costs related to the Medicare pilot studies, and there was also a penny per share in costs related to so-called "international initiatives."

Now let me be clear on something -- I actually applaud the company for offering up this information. I think it's valuable information that lets investors better understand the company. Where things get tricky, though, is when analysts aren't clear which charges and expenses are included in their estimates and when news services don't clearly state which sets of numbers they're comparing (and thereby give shareholders heart attacks when they read about "big misses").

Simply put, things are going pretty well for American Healthways. The company saw a 64% increase in self-employed lives under management and a 28% increase overall in lives under management. Additionally, the annualized revenue backlog jumped about 22% on a sequential basis. What's more, the company is starting another new program -- launching a high-risk obesity effort with CIGNA (NYSE:CI).

And then there's the Medicare business. The pilot studies seem to be going well (only a 4% opt-out rate in the Maryland/DC pilot) and thus far have represented only a minimal contribution to revenue. That could change in a big way, though, in the years to come. Not only do Medicare patients often have the chronic conditions that this company specializes in managing, but the government is always looking for ways to save money here. Put simply, if these pilots work, it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue opportunity for the company -- even assuming that competitors such as Matria (NASDAQ:MATR) or UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH) get some of the action as well.

You'll never hear me say that valuation doesn't matter, but I'm willing to concede that high-growth opportunities often trade at prices that look too high -- only to go higher still as the performances keep improving. I won't be buying these shares for myself any time soon, but another dip like we saw back in September could lead me to change my mind. In the meantime, do some due diligence, and keep this one on your watch list -- it could still surprise us all.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).