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Allscripts CEO lays out genomics strategy to users

Allscripts, maybe the only EHR vendor with a chance to survive and prosper against Epic and Cerner, detailed its strategy at its user conference.

BOSTON -- Don't count out Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, Inc. just yet.

Paul Black, the former Cerner Corp. COO credited with leading Allscripts' recent turnaround as its CEO and president since late 2012, laid out a bold strategy to Allscripts users to keep the EHR vendor viable in a market dominated by Cerner and Epic Systems Corp.

"It doesn't make any sense to rip out the base layer," Black told nearly 3,000 attendees during his Aug. 5 keynote at the Allscripts Client Experience (ACE 2015) annual user conference, held this year at the sprawling Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. "We're here for the long term."

Don't rip and replace, Black urges

Black took aim at the wave of "rip-and-replace" moves that hundreds of healthcare systems have made over the last decade, removing existing EHR systems -- such as those from Allscripts -- and replacing them with expensive Epic and Cerner EHRs.

Allscripts, with a wide-ranging base in ambulatory clinics, has had considerable success fending off the two EHR giants, both of which have far outdistanced Allscripts, as well as MEDITECH (Medical Information Technology, Inc.) and McKesson Corp. in the lucrative inpatient market.

Genomics, precision medicine and EHRs

Central to the strategy Black laid out to his customers at ACE 2015 is a major deal with genomics IT vendor NantHealth LLC, which is headed by cancer researcher and entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D. NantHealth's system represents the kind of "next-generation" healthcare technology that providers should invest in, rather than ripping out existing EHRs, Black said.

The partnership agreement between the two companies -- which involved a $200 million investment by Allscripts in NantHealth and a personal $100 million investment in Allscripts by Soon-Shiong -- will merge NantHealth's "intelligent operating system" for precision medicine clinical decision-making for oncologists with Allscripts' Sunrise EHR, Black and Soon-Shiong said.

Central to Allscripts' strategy is a major deal with genomics IT vendor NantHealth.

"Why are we with Allscripts?" Soon-Shiong said in his keynote to the Allscripts users. "Allscripts has one of the biggest footprints in the ambulatory world."

Soon-Shiong argued that advances in genomics and molecular medicine make possible precision medicine software for oncologists.

By sequencing patients' genomes and tailoring individualized drug regimens that insurers will cover, oncologists can better engage cancer-killing cells and more often avoid toxic chemotherapy side effects, Soon-Shiong said.

Interoperability -- and alleged lack thereof

In an interview with reporters after the keynotes, Soon-Shiong said that Allscripts' open architecture was another reason he opted to partner with the Chicago-based company.

Black, also after the keynotes, said within six months, he expects NantHealth's genomics cancer system to merge with the Allscripts EHR so doctors can get clinical decision-making data in real time.

On the conference stage, Black criticized Epic -- but not Cerner, his former employer -- for its alleged lack of interoperability, though he asserted that Allscripts' systems could talk to Epic's and those from all other EHR vendors.

Black noted -- as Cerner executives previously had -- that Epic dropped its data exchange transaction fee the day after the release of a congressional "data blocking" report, which implied that some vendors and providers were making it hard to exchange health data.

"We can get the Epic [information] out," Black said. "We play very well with them, whether they like it or not."

What remains is "data bullying," Black said, in which providers armed with the big vendors' EHRs tell smaller providers: "We don't want to connect to you, because we want to buy your practice."

The alleged tactic Black was referring to is when large healthcare systems acquire physician practices using other EHRs and pressure them to switch to Epic or Cerner.

"That's crap," he said. "At the end of the day, it's the patient's data. The patient deserves to have it."

Allscripts survives in busy market

According to recently updated meaningful use attestation statistics from CMS, Allscripts ranked third after Epic and Cerner in total ambulatory attestations since 2011, and sixth in the inpatient category.

After returning to a measure of financial stability since floundering in 2012 before Black's arrival, Allscripts, now with $1.4 billion in annual revenues and 6,700 employees, restructured and turned in record second quarter bookings and earnings earlier this month.

Market observers, such as KLAS Enterprises LLC, have commented favorably on the performance of Allscripts' ambulatory EHR and practice management systems, as well as its research and development progress in population health, data analytics and patient portal EHR features.

In a recent EHR purchasing intentions report, KLAS said Allscripts, with a somewhat stable user base, was worth looking at and is sometimes "unfairly overlooked" by providers looking to upgrade. However, KLAS also noted that potential customers "see Allscripts' flat market share growth as a concern."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Shaun Sutner, news and features writeror contact @SSutner on Twitter.

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