Distributors, EMR vendors pick partners

Edition: May 2010 - Vol 18 Number 05
Article#: 3456
Author: Repertoire

It’s a pretty safe bet that physician offices will – sometime soon – jump onto the electronic-medical-records bandwagon. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – better known as the “stimulus act” – provides for incentives for them to do just that. And after 2015, those who fail to do so will be penalized financially by Medicare.

It’s also a safe bet that many physicians know that implementing EMR is a good idea, both financially and clinically. Yet implementation has been relatively slow. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that preliminary figures from its most recent National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey show that in 2009, roughly 21 percent of physicians had a basic EMR system, with another 6 percent reporting a fully functioning system. (Those numbers are up from 2008, when 17 percent reported having a basic system and 4 percent reported having a fully functioning one.)

What’s the holdup?

Inertia, for one. Paper, pencils and manila folders with colorful tabs have worked for years and years. So why switch?

Fear is another reason. A big one. “It’s a huge expenditure,” points out one manufacturer of medical devices. “Then, let’s say they buy a system. They wonder, ‘What can it connect to? Who can I talk to about that?’” And then suppose, a year or two down the line, something goes wrong, and data from a digital diagnostic device fails to find its way into the EMR. Who does the practice manager call? The device manufacturer? EMR vendor? Computer hardware manufacturer? Distributor? It’s bewildering.

It is estimated that 30 percent of all electronic medical systems are never fully implemented or simply abandoned, according to the manufacturer. “It’s because the doctor wasn’t prepared, or didn’t prepare his staff, for what was to come.”

Entrée for reps

Clearly, help is needed. For med/surg distributors, it would seem to be a tailor-made opportunity. Of all the people who call on doctors, med/surg reps alone have knowledge of: 1) the physician(s), the staff, and the goals and challenges of the practice; 2) the digital medical equipment the practice uses (or wants to buy); and 3) the role that EMR could play in the practice.

“We’re not the experts on [electronic health records],” says Henry Schein Medical President Dave McKinley. “But we are experts at helping doctors achieve better clinical outcomes and run more efficient practices.”

Pick your partner

But with thousands of supplies, devices and pieces of equipment already in their bags, how can a distributor rep add one more thing – a complex one, at that – to the mix? Clearly, simplicity is called for. That seems to be one reason why the national physician-office distributors have partnered up with preferred EMR vendors. To wit:

• Cardinal Health exclusively promotes the Allscripts MyWay™ EMR and practice management system to small physician groups (though Chicago-based Allscripts does engage other value-added resellers).

• Henry Schein has teamed up with Allscripts to promote the vendor’s Professional™ EMR system.

• PSS World Medical at one time had a relationship with Greenway Medical Technologies, but terminated it, opting instead to purchase 5 percent of the outstanding shares of athenahealth Inc., a Watertown, Mass.-based vendor of practice management, billing and EMR systems. At the same time, PSS entered into a two-year exclusive distribution agreement with athenahealth. (PSS sold a portion of those shares in March 2008.)

• McKesson Medical-Surgical is in a class of its own, by virtue of the fact that its parent company – McKesson Corp. – owns a substantial information systems business. The product that McKesson Medical-Surgical reps bring to their physician-office customers, particularly those in practices with one to 10 physicians, is McKesson’s Practice Partner®.

“I think we’re likely to see more and more of these kinds of agreements, because some products require a more technical understanding of the way they work,” says John Grisdale, vice president of marketing management for ambulatory care, Cardinal Health. “The sales force is more effective when they’re articulating the features and benefits of one product.”

ConnectHealth

Henry Schein’s recently announced ConnectHealth™ program is a combination of simplicity and hand-holding. In March, the company announced the program, which it described as a partnership with Allscripts, Midmark, Siemens Healthcare, Welch Allyn, Dell and Medline Industries. ConnectHealth is designed to help the physician practice by doing three things:

• Simplify the selection of digital equipment that will seamlessly connect to the EMR.

• Coordinate the implementation of the EMR.

• Provide enhanced decision support and single-call customer concierge support after implementation.

Henry Schein had entered into an exclusive deal to market the Allscripts Professional product in June 2009. “How to take it a step further and make it easier for the physician office is something we’ve been talking about,” says McKinley. “It’s clear physicians don’t have the technical support they need to implement and interface all their digital equipment. We thought that was an opportunity to provide a level of service to our customers that was above and beyond just installing an EHR.”

“Doctors don’t buy technology for the sake of technology,” adds Todd Cooper, vice president of marketing and general manager for Henry Schein’s medical team. “They buy it because they want to improve clinical outcomes and achieve better efficiencies in the office. That said, our rep can be the quarterback in the relationship, drawing on relationships with the Allscripts sales rep, our equipment partners and even hardware partners to come in and provide a comprehensive digital solution.

“It’s about simplicity for the customer. We act as that center point, drawing on the appropriate resources from our other partners as required.”

The customer will now have one phone number to call to get help with issues related to the EMR, digital equipment or any other hardware under the ConnectHealth umbrella, says McKinley. Henry Schein already has people in place to take such calls, but will probably add more to help support the business.

“It’s not selling the technology so much as helping the customer get to a quicker solution, coordinating the connectivity,” says McKinley. “We’re going to guarantee that everything works together from the standpoint of the digital equipment they need to run their practice, as well as the EHR. We are going to be the air traffic controller to help them through this maze of technology.”

Evolving role for sales reps

McKesson Corp., which purchased the Practice Partner practice management and EMR system in February 2007, looks to its med/surg reps to act as their customers’ bridge to the technology experts, says Greg Stivers, vice president, customer technology, McKesson Medical-Surgical. (McKesson Corp. also owns two practice-management systems: Medisoft® and Lytec® MD.)

“We contemplated, ‘Do we train our reps to be experts’” on EMR, says Stivers. The answer was no, the reps have enough on their plates already. “Our expectation is that they be a lead-generation source,” he says. For that reason, McKesson Medical-Surgical reps are trained to investigate a practice’s interest in and need for EMR.

But during and after an EMR sale, the med/surg rep is expected to assume a “relationship management” role, according to Stivers. Given that McKesson Corp. owns both the EMR company and the med/surg distributor, the med/surg reps are well-positioned to do so.

Cardinal Health doesn’t own an EMR, but Grisdale believes the company’s exclusive agreement with Allscripts offers value to both the EMR vendor and the customer.

“Exclusive arrangements like these create more value for the manufacturer, making us a better partner,” he says. “An example in the case of Allscripts would be our sales force committing exclusively to MyWay and selling a number of their EMR agreements, instead of offering our customers many EMR options from different manufacturers and selling only a few of each.

“EMR systems are relatively new, so the role of the sales rep is an evolving one,” he adds. “As we move further and further into this arena, where we’re selling more technical products, medical product distributors have the opportunity to add more and more value for both the physicians and the product manufacturers.”