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7/3/2014
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Cerner, Mission Health Rewrite Partnership Rules

Ten-year contract rewards EMR vendor Cerner if Mission Health saves money on new cost-saving measures they implement together.

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Vendors and clients frequently refer to each other as partners, but the relationship seldom involves mutual risk or benefit. Cerner and Mission Health changed that, when they recently embarked on a 10-year agreement that expands far beyond their earlier work together.

Mission Health has used Cerner technology for about 15 years, building workflow around the healthcare technology provider's electronic medical record (EMR) software. As the two organizations sought new ways to transform in today's evolving healthcare market, they explored how they could build upon their existing relationship, industry knowledge, and goals in mutually beneficial ways, said Sulaiman Sulaiman, senior vice president and CIO at Mission Health.

"An EMR vendor to a hospital, to a healthcare organization, is more really than a vendor to be honest. It's more than a sales deal, more than a customer," he said in an interview. "A relationship with an EMR vendor has to be so tight because we are truly transforming healthcare. We are not buying a gadget. We are transforming workflow. We are transforming processes."

The extended relationship sprang from top-level conversations about healthcare's age of uncertainty and the important role technology plays in stabilizing some of this ambiguity and risk, said Joanne Burns, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Cerner. Initially, healthcare organizations believed EMRs would transform their organizations; however, many discovered EMRs are a strong first step, but are only part of a metamorphosis.

"We were talking about how to go about that [transformation]; what are some great opportunities with information technology, and we started talking about what does Mission Health hope to accomplish, what are they thinking about for next 10 years," Burns said. "[We recognized] there are probably some opportunities to think very differently around relationships. How do you start looking at it as a very different relationship and a more strategic relationship?"

More than words
Mission Health started the process by outlining its goals, which included included promoting good health habits, engaging patients and employees, and improving quality of care, said Burns.

"It really was about understanding truly what Mission was trying to accomplish and structuring the relationship around that," she said. "We're thinking about [healthcare] the way providers are now having to think about it to get paid. We really want to partner with Mission Health to achieve those goals, rather than turning stuff on and figuring out how to use it."

Under terms of the partnership, 11 Cerner employees are relocating to Mission Health's Asheville, N.C.-based headquarters, said Sulaiman. Some are involved in IT; others will work in the healthcare system's quality department. Considered part of Mission Health's team, they are available for hallway consultations, formal meetings, hands-on work, and long-term planning, executives agreed.

"Being part and parcel of the client day in, day out, it gives the opportunity to really plan and work with our clients and understand where we're going with

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Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
7/3/2014 | 12:01:19 PM
Re: A Bold Move
The way Cerner and Mission Health are working together to align compensation with value delivered reminds me of the relationship government and private payers are trying to establish for paying for healthcare. If Mission Health participates in value-based reimbursement schemes such as Accountable Care Organizations, having the vendor aligned with the same sort of goals ought to make them more successful. Makes sense, hope it works for them.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/3/2014 | 10:00:39 AM
A Bold Move
This is, I think, a very bold move by Cerner and Mission Health. In Cerner's case, it is taking a reduction in software income; in Mission Health's case, it is giving Cerner unheard of access to staff, infrastructure, and plans. The benefits, if all goes as planned, will reward both -- and even if the partnership does not deliver savings, there are other pluses. However, I would bet the two organizations will realize some financial savings and quality improvements through this tight partnership. 

As both executives said, this type of arrangement is not for everyone, though. It definitely requires a lot of commitment, flexibility, and foresight, plus a willingness to cede some control (on both sides). It will be very interesting to see how the contract progresses over the next decade. 
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