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Most Interesting Vendor: Cerner — Moving Outside the Hospital's Four Walls

May 29, 2014
by Rajiv Leventhal
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A health IT vendor with a mainly hospital-based reputation, Cerner’s technology innovations now focus on interoperability and population health management

When Cerner was founded 35 years ago by CEO Neal Patterson and others, its fundamental purpose was to help solve healthcare by making it safer and more efficient. Over the years, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company seems to have succeeded in those areas largely due to its dominance in the global health IT market and its efforts to digitize paper processes by supplying solutions, services, devices and hardware for healthcare organizations. These solutions are licensed by approximately 9,300 facilities globally, including more than 2,650 hospitals; 3,750 physician practices 40,000 physicians; 500 ambulatory facilities, such as laboratories, ambulatory centers, cardiac facilities, radiology clinics and surgery centers; 800 home health facilities; 40 employer sites and 1,600 retail pharmacies, according to Reuters’ profile of the company.

Facing several different challenges—including a massive shift towards ambulatory care volume; the ongoing consolidation of the EHR; and above all, the juggernaut-like advance of the Verona, Wis.-based Epic Systems corporation in grabbing the lion’s share of new EHR contracts, Cerner has managed to stay toe-to-toe with Epic while maintaining a strong position of favorability among patient care organization IT leaders.

In fact, in the “2013 Best in KLAS Software and Services” report, the Orem, Utah-based researcher found Epic and Cerner acute care EHRs to have had the strongest integration story across the continuum of care. “They continue to be the highest-rated and continue to get the most new market share year after year,” said Colin Buckley, director of research strategy at KLAS. Additionally, the company recently reported a first-quarter 2014 revenue of $784.8 million, as well as a 2013 health IT revenue of $2,910,748,000—ranking 2nd in this year’s HCI 100, a list that annually ranks the 100 vendors with the highest revenues derived from health IT products and services earned in the U.S.

At the core of Cerner’s strategy going forward is finding ways to improve the wellbeing of individual people, but also entire populations. By designing leading-edge health information technology, the company aims to offer strategies that empower its customers to know, manage, and engage its populations.  Cerner believes that understanding the needs of groups—and then predicting and coordinating the most effective interventions, will lead to a better healthcare, says Matthew Swindells, senior vice president, population health and global strategy, responsible for leading Cerner’s population health organization. “The goal is to move from reactive sick care to proactive health. This transformational shift toward proactive health management aligns with the vision Cerner was founded on [35 years ago],” Swindells says.

Indeed, Cerner has made population health a significant priority in recent years. The company’s 2013 acquisition of PureWellness, a leading health and wellness company that develops solutions to enable population health, has further positioned Cerner to help organizations manage the health and care of patient populations. What’s more, Cerner’s population health suite of solutions is built around HealtheIntent, a new data platform that is EHR agnostic, and aggregates and normalizes data from any source. To create a longitudinal record for each patient or “member,” HealtheIntent coordinates data across the continuum of care through digitization, predictive analytics and real-time decision support. The platform sits above the venue of care and links together all of those venues to provide an integrated view of a community of care, enabling the user to get a longitudinal view of what’s happening to a patient at any point in time, explains Swindells. 

Matthew Swindells

“It’s really important to have a fantastic EHR in the hospital, but transforming healthcare is more than just being fantastic in the hospital—it’s about linking up all of those venues of care in real time and being able to drive actions in the right place,” he says. “So if the protocol for managing a patient, who just had a heart attack, is to talk about rehabilitation and his or her lifestyle going forward, we want to be able to take that across multiple venues for that patient to receive the right care wherever he or she may be.”

As such, Swindells feels that the future of healthcare needs to be one where the individual is at the center of healthcare, rather than the hospital. And a big part of that, he adds, is getting technology to be more interoperable, because health systems are now saying to vendors, “Either you interoperate with what we have, or we will replace you.” To that end, last year, at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) annual conference, Cerner and other leading health IT vendors announced the launch of the CommonWell Health Alliance, an organization that combines the health and IT knowledge of organizations to create a seamless data environment through common platforms in order to liberate health data from clinical and financial silos.