Cerner President Zane Burke talks defense deal, analytics and the Internet of Things

Most successful new business year in the company's history marked by Department of Defense deal, provider contracts.
By Skip Snow
08:34 AM
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Cerner president Zane Burke is having a banner year, capped by a milestone contract win from the U.S. Department of Defense. A self-characterized "recovering CPA," Burke joined the firm in 1995 and now runs the company's solution direction and strategy, client relationships and sales.

Cerner is the world's largest public healthcare IT company, according to its 2015 shareholder report. With 2014 revenues of $3.4 billion and robust growth, it has navigated these past years as the healthcare industry embraces digitization.

[See also: Cerner rides high with DoD deal.]

Having made headlines in 2014 with its $1.2 billion acquisition of Siemens Health Services, Cerner has continued to push forward in 2015, locking up the DoD deal, signing up new providers and looking to the global market as it offers new products and services across the geographic and health IT landscapes.

Healthcare IT News caught up with Burke recently to talk about the past year and the company's overall strategy.

On Cerner's big year

It's been the most successful new business year in the history of the company. Big health systems – IASIS Healthcare, McLaren Health Care, Baptist Health South Florida, along with another 100-plus sites – have already joined the Cerner family this year.

On that other big contract it signed in 2015

The Department of Defense is one with which we're very pleased. We're humbled to have won and been selected. I felt good as a taxpayer (regarding) the thoroughness that the Department of Defense had gone through.

As explained to us, the elements that the Department of Defense were keying off of were: patient safety, user experience, data security and open and interoperable as a platform.

On its commitment to delivering value to Cerner customers

Hitting budgets, hitting timelines – we understand what that means. It's not about necessarily the least expensive. Fixed and predictable costs are how we go to market. We work with our clients on creating value benchmarks by which we go attain those benchmarks together and both get rewarded as we hit those benchmarks. Part of that is just core fundamental to who we are.

[See also: 7 things DoD sought in Cerner EHR.]

On the future of digital health and healthcare

When you're buying software, you're buying the future. One of the most interesting components of software procurement is there's a big dog-and-pony show, the beauty contest of the demonstrations and the reference sites and all those pieces, which are incredibly important as it relates to making sure that the capabilities are real. What you're really buying is, where is this company going to take this software in the future? It all starts with, where are you taking this solution set over the next 20 years?

On why user experience is a core value

We're the only industry that actually puts the rock stars at the keyboard. Our industry takes the physician that's trained for years to become highly specialized at the keyboard. It puts the nurse who's concerned about patient care and has gone to school to deliver the best patient care or the respiratory therapist at the keyboard. So the physician, the nurse and the care team (are) critically important because of the usability and intuitiveness of the solution set. I don't think we'll ever be finished.

Then back to all of us at the center of this is a person, and back to we all want to be healthy. Care outside of acute (is) increasingly more important, and so is having an (electronic health record) that plays across behavioral health, home care, rehab, skilled nursing, retail, pharmacy, all of those venues of care. Whether we're a person at home, whether we are a patient in a care setting, whether we're a member of a health plan, whether we're a consumer and we just want to learn some things – all those aspects are critically important as we move forward, because it's that person at the center of everything we do.

On the future of population health management

The next pieces are really around what happens on the population health perspective, our big investments in revenue cycle, care across the continuum. We believe in one EHR across the entire continuum. Whether you're in a skilled nursing facility, whether you're in rehab, whether you're in acute or ambulatory, that one EHR experience is important.

On the maturation of EHRs and the strategic opportunities posed by population health

There is an awful lot of work to be done in the EHR, and there's still a lot of elements to be done. I'll let the market judge whether that's a commoditized element or not. They're highly complex and challenging systems, and there's a big, significant investment in those systems.

[See also: KLAS: 3 traits keep Cerner at top globally.]

EHRs tomorrow are likely to become the lab systems of today. We see a world evolving to where that population health layer becomes more of the strategic layer. Claims data is important. Pharmacy benefit management data is important, so the retail pharmacy pieces are important. All of those matter as you're going to go aggregate that data and try to get a true longitudinal record.

On integrating within heterogeneous environments

It is really not inside the EHR today. It's out there in all these other places. Whether it's having an EHR across all of those solutions, which we do, and/or it's having a platform that layers, which we do, we believe that matters, because as much as I want it to be an all-Cerner world everywhere, that's not a practical reality. We're not going to have the claims data or the PBM data and the EHR, nor do you necessarily want to store it there, but those are very important elements in telling the whole picture of the longitudinal record.

On the importance of analytics to enabling value-based care

We think the intelligence layer is critically important as we move forward. Now that we've invested all these dollars in digitizing the record, what do we do with all that data? We created big investments around studying the data, structuring the data, creating a standard nomenclature around that data such that we can work on it, then work on algorithms. Create algorithms which are going to help clinicians make better decisions.

On the importance of behavioral health data

I look at behavioral health as a big marketplace, not because there's a lot of funding – because it's been traditionally heavily underfunded and not well-represented in the healthcare system. But as we move more risk in the model, that connectivity to the behavioral health side is critically important to manage.

On Cerner's big plans for the Internet of Things

We are absolutely excited about the Internet of Things. There's an opportunity for relevant information to become part of that whole longitudinal health record and have an impact on care. Being an open platform for innovation around that and knowing that there are a lot of smart people, we would like to figure out ways that those smart people can write applications that can be consumed in the workflow of our solution set. Today in our own health plan, my Fitbit I wear automatically uploads into my patient portal. It is an incentive for dollars off of my healthcare costs. Within the Cerner plan, we do that today. It's real; it lives.

Those kinds of things we're doing today, but it's early in where that comes. To the extent that that communication and information provide insights, we want to provide that at the right time to the clinician and help them. I would say that's going to be heavily driven by partners, but there will be places where we choose to play ourselves as well.

On interoperability and patient access

We fundamentally believe that every person has the right to their data, and so we think that should be a fundamental right to have in terms of interacting in the healthcare system. I ought to be able to request my data, and it ought to be available to the physicians and clinicians that I provide consent for.

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Industry will come together, as many of us have, to go help solve this problem. That ultimately, I think, is going to be better than the alternative, which I think if industry does not solve the problem, government will attempt to do that, and I think we're better off in an environment where industry solves it. Things like Bluetooth, the ATM card and the rail system were all done by industry, not by the government.

On the pressing need for national patient ID

We have some elements lacking in this country around a national patient identifier, and I don't think that's a topic that's going to be taken up by public policy in any way. That's a real legitimate issue to be solved.

CommonWell and the 30-plus organizations that are part of CommonWell are committed to creating that patient identification that helps create better access for the person to access their data anywhere. We have some good success. We're two and a half years in. We're in six states with CommonWell, working well and continuing to see good growth.

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