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
our clients instead of reacting. It takes a lot of time and effort out of it," Burns said. "This cuts out a lot of this time and allows organizations to be a lot more nimble and agile going forward."
There are other advantages, too.
If the two organizations implement a cost-saving measure, they will share the financial reward, said Sulaiman. "If we achieve a saving of $1 million we will be happy to share that with Cerner. It's an incentive-based initiative that will incent both Mission and Cerner," he said. "I honestly think that's kind of unique. We appreciate the Cerner partnership. We both have to win."
Cerner can then take this work and customize or standardize it for other customers, said Sulaiman. And its close relationship to Mission Health gives the developer access to a plethora of knowledge and potential pilot users.
"As we develop new solutions we have the opportunity to get Mission Health's input, input from real live users. That's something we're already thinking about working on," Burns said. "That's in process."
Cerner adjusted some software costs and gave Mission Health access to all its software, said Sulaiman. This helps control costs while promoting Cerner products throughout the 10,600-employee organization, he said. However, Mission Health still will consider alternative products if Cerner's technology does not meet its needs, said Sulaiman.
"With the new alignment we have fixed some of that cost and we have extended access to all of the Cerner solutions. As long as that solution exists today, we have access to that license. We only need to pay for the professional services implementation and any integration needed," he said.
Previously, Mission Health had to get a quote from Cerner, review the demo, and consider its options. This approach, while traditional, was time-consuming and expensive, said Sulaiman.
Mission Health is not alone in seeking new, deeper relationships with key vendors, said Burns. Although intense, long-term contracts will not replace today's standard approach, Cerner works closely with several organizations -- including Intermountain Health, the Bear Institute, and the University of Missouri -- although Mission Health's relationship is the longest and most complex, she said.
"We've recognized that we need to adapt as much as they need to adapt to the future," said Burns. "We recognize that they're looking for dependable costs that they can understand and they can predict and they're looking for less variation in them and we're trying to help them achieve those goals."
That said, this model is not for every healthcare organization, executives cautioned. It's not merely a new payment model, Burns said.
"The clients we do this usually want to go faster in leveraging IT and not all organizations have the appetite for that," she said.
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