For most of the time I’ve spent covering health IT — going back to the early 90s — vendor and provider technology development hung out in separate silos. Sure, the smarter vendors at least took time to talk with customers about their needs, but most pushed products and features developed in a vacuum.
While that’s still the case today for many vendors, I believe the paradigm has begun to shift. These days, health IT vendors are increasingly working with providers to create products for rapidly-emerging arenas like population health and tools to support ACO management.
One great example of this trend is a deal recently struck between Cerner and Kansas City, MO-based Advocate Health Care, along with Advocate Physician Partners (announced, not too surprisingly, the Friday before the glory that is HIMSS). While this deal is extending an existing long-term partnership, not kicking off a new project, it’s still gives us a nice look at how vendor/provider partnerships are evolving.
To be sure, Cerner is still playing the traditional vendor role to some extent. For example, Advocate has invested in Cerner’s HealtheCare, a community-based care management solution, as well as having the vendor keep hosting Advocate’s Cerner EMR through 2024. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The heart of the deal is the development partnership, which if all goes well should give both parties a leg up in creating technologies that aren’t just shovelware. With the Advocate folks will bring their on-the-ground population health and process smarts to the table, and Cerner will share its population health and EMR technology.
Over the next seven years, the Physician Partners group will help Cerner develop a sophisticated set of population health tools. Meanwhile, Physician Partners gets access to HealtheRegistries, a tool which aggregates clinical, financial and operational data to offer a broad look at patient activity.
While this may seem like dressed-up vendor sales win puffery, my instinct is that it’s more than that. After all, both Cerner and Advocate stand to benefit substantially if they truly work together. Advocate gets the first look at EMR and population health tools that could shape their patient care strategy for decades, and Cerner gets vital provider input on a line of business which could prove to absorb EMR technologies in its wake.
And that, my friends, is why a vendor the size of Cerner — which could probably force its internally-designed products down the throat of health systems for quite a while — is developing real partnerships with its customers. In the emerging world of health IT, providers may very well filter their care management and documentation in ways that relegate the EMR to back-end status.
If other vendors are smart enough to see that the “we make it, you buy it” model of health IT dev isn’t aging well, the great engines that power care are likely to be robust, relevant and productive. If not, well, what’s the harm if Cerner turns a bigger profit over the next several years?