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Cerner: Executing on Neal’s Vision

by Chilmark Team | October 11, 2019

By John Moore, Alex Lennox-Miller & Paul Nardone.

Cerner wants to be the partner of choice for those seeking a broader presence in healthcare. This was the message, reiterated many times over during Cerner’s user conference (CHC’19) this week. Coupled with this is the desire to be the open platform for health in the industry – not dissimilar to former CEO and Cerner co-founder Neal Patterson’s vision of wanting Cerner to become the iOS of the healthcare industry in his keynote years ago. While Neal did not see his vision through to completion – he sadly lost his battle against cancer – the company is now clearly doubling down on that vision. This was one of several key takeaways from CHC’19.

Key Takeaways:

  • Cerner is banking a lot on its relationship with Amazon’s AWS, which is core to its overarching strategy to create a “cognitive platform” for health.
  • Through strategic partnerships, Cerner is seeking new paths to market for its HealtheIntent population health platform.
  • The company is putting greater emphasis on end-user roles and the tasks they are trying to accomplish.
  • The NIH (not invented here) syndrome that was pervasive at Cerner has fallen out of favor.

The EHR market is dead, long live the EHR

The health IT industry we see today is a direct result of the HITECH Act, which encouraged (nearly mandated) healthcare organizations of all sizes to adopt EHRs. Adoption of EHRs grew rapidly in the ensuing decade from a paltry 12% to market saturation today. With EHR sales growth now nearly stagnant (some growth overseas), many EHR vendors are moving into adjacent markets for future growth.

At CHC’19 one of the overarching messages – on banners everywhere – was:

What we do together changes everything.

This message can be viewed from the perspective of a Cerner client or Cerner partner; we’ll focus more on the latter.

While Cerner CEO Brent Shafer’s keynote highlighted their continuing focus on meeting their clients’ needs, his presentation was heavily weighted on strategic partnerships. Their recently announced partnership with Amazon was mentioned several times over the course of his presentation with a highlight being that together, via “Project Apollo,”  a joint project they started two years ago, they will create a cognitive platform for health.

Shafer broke down Cerner’s go-forward strategy into three major themes:

  1. Migrate the Millennium EHR to become a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform – on AWS of course,
  2. Become the strategic Health Network Partner for the healthcare sector,
  3. Become a provider of “curated health data.”

All three of these support Cerner’s strategic partnership strategy. Moving Millennium to a SaaS offering allows for greater consistency in deployment that will ease integration of partner solutions. The second point they are executing aggressively with strategic partners that include Amazon, Salesforce, ResMed, and Lumeris, to name a few. Lastly, the third theme is critical to power the partner ecosystem as partners need access to clean, accurate, curated data to enable their own service offerings.

What is particularly interesting about Cerner’s partnership strategy is their willingness to relinquish a line of business outside their core competency – clinical facing apps and curation of clinical data. With the ResMed partnership, Cerner is discontinuing its own home health initiative and will work with ResMed to embed Bright Health into Cerner’s population health platform, HealtheIntent. In return, ResMed will adopt Cerner’s HealtheIntent platform as the overarching platform for its array of solution offerings. Cerner’s partnership with Salesforce is one wherein Cerner’s HealtheCare provides high fidelity, clinical data/clinical context to Salesforce’s CRM. This will allow Salesforce to more effectively perform in- and outbound patient/consumer engagement.

In all of these strategic, partnerships, the partner’s solution is more tightly integrated via proprietary Cerner APIs that provide a far deeper level of integration into the Cerner host platform environment. The image of Cerner’s patient engagement solution gives an example of the potential here with embedded solutions from partners American Well, GetWell Network, Kyruus, and Simplee.

While Cerner will be picking preferred partners, (note, none are exclusive) it was adamant in stating it intends to be open to any solution that wishes to integrate into the Cerner host environment. This should ease client fears that their already chosen vendor will not be left out in the cold. However, that vendor will not be able to have the same tight integration as preferred vendors.

Accelerate, Move Beyond EHR, be Reclassified

Years ago, Neal saw the writing on the wall: the HITECH windfall would come to an end and the company would need to recast itself beyond the EHR moniker. While Neal wanted Cerner to become the healthcare iOS, under his leadership I’m not convinced it would have happened for Neal had a fierce NIH mentality – maybe not quite as fierce as Epic’s, but close.

At CHC’19 Cerner was aggressively messaging that they will be the trusted health partner delivering value across the healthcare value chain. From what we saw, it appears that they are executing on that vision which, at first blush, sounds compelling. But how easily Cerner carries its clients forward with them remains to be seen as they are still in the throes of optimizing their EHRs. Cerner will also need to look more closely at some of its own core applications, e.g., Revenue Cycle Management (RCM), which clients have struggled with for years. Years ago, they had the opportunity to go to market with Siemens Soarian, a state-of-the-art RCM when Cerner acquired that business. But the NIH syndrome was strong then and Soarian was put on the back burner. How Cerner goes forward with its own future buy, build or partner strategy bears close watching.

So what does one call a company like Cerner with both feet in the EHR market and one hand reaching out to the open platform they wish to become? We’re not entirely sure but one thing is clear, all EHR vendors need to begin recasting themselves as more than just EHR and right now, Cerner appears to have an early lead on others in doing just that.

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