Allscripts, Cardinal Health announce partnership to sell EHRs to physicians

By Eric Wicklund
09:19 AM

One of the nation’s largest electronic health record vendors is teaming up with a major healthcare distributor in an effort to convince solo and small-practice physicians to adopt healthcare IT.

Thursday’s deal between Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions and Cardinal Health is the latest and largest forged by Chicago-based Allscripts to create a distribution network for its MyWay EHR. The partnership allows Cardinal Health, based in Dublin, Ohio, to add Allscripts MyWay to its portfolio of products and services.

According to Kenny Wilson, senior vice president and general manager of Cardinal Health’s ambulatory care business, the federal government’s efforts to promote electronic health records made it “absolutely essential” that Cardinal partner with an EHR vendor. He said Cardinal spent nearly 18 months looking at vendors and methods before picking Allscripts.

“Doctors have to make a decision – they have to,” he said, pointing out that physicians can get some federal funding for demonstrating “meaningful use” of electronic medical records in the future – but they also stand to lose a percentage of their Medicaid reimbursements if they fail to do so.

“Cardinal Health is committed to helping physicians improve the efficiency of their practices and the quality of care they provide,” Wilson said. “Our partnership with Allscripts is a great example of how Cardinal Health helps physician practices improve through the use of innovative technologies.”

Allscripts’ deal with Cardinal Health and its creation of the Allscripts Distribution Network (ADN) is a new attempt at reaching the one- to three-physician market, which numbers more than 160,000 medical groups in the United States. Recent surveys indicate only 5 percent of this market has adopted EHRs.

Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman sees the ADN as an effort to reach the “big middle,” the vast majority of healthcare providers who aren’t innovators or early adopters, weren’t involved in the initial wave of EHR adoption and are now looking for a quick and easy solution to meet pending federal requirements. Those physicians can qualify for up to $64,000 in federal incentives under the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 if they demonstrate “meaningful use” of an EHR system beginning in 2011 - and they stand to lose a percentage of their Medicare reimbursements if they haven’t adopted an EHR by 2015.

“As we move to the next level, it’s going to require some hand-holding, some personal touch” to bring these physicians into the IT era, he said. By partnering with the likes of Cardinal Health - as well as eTransmedia and QMACS - Allscripts has set out to create a network of more than 2,000 resellers.

“We’re partnering with people who have already built a trusted relationship with physicians in their local markets,” said Tullman. “They have an understanding of how each practice works and what technology they’ll need.”

Tullman said the Allscripts method counters the “off the shelf” method now being touted by retail giant Wal-Mart, which is selling eClinicalWorks-based electronic medical records products online through its Sam’s Club subsidiary.

“Physicians don’t want to buy something off the shelf,” he said. “Are you going to make a bet on your practice … with somebody you met for the first time or someone you’ve dealt with before?”

Wilson and Carol Conti, Cardinal Health’s senior manager of marketing technology, agree. They point out that physicians buying “off the shelf” technology still need setup and maintenance services. eClinical Works officials have noted that the online offereing includes hardware, software, implementation help and training.

Wilson pointed out that small physician practices don’t have a lot of time or money to spend on technology, so they want a product that’s easy to install and scalable. He lauded Allscripts’ MyWay package as something that can be installed in a physician practice without much capital outlay.