Cerner President Zane Burke: Why clients are switching EHRs from 'our primary competitor'

Cerner reported its financial results for the third quarter of 2015 and held a related conference call Tuesday, but company executives didn't just talk about their own company during the call. Cerner President Zane Burke offered some insight and analysis on their "primary competitor" and hypothesized why some of those clients are migrating to Cerner's offerings.

Though no competitors were explicitly named, one can infer Mr. Burke's comments refered to Epic, as the two EHR vendors are constantly ranked the highest in market and mindshare.

According to March 2015 data from the ONC, 931 hospitals reported using Cerner's EHR as their primary system to attest to meaningful use, and 835 hospitals reported using Epic's. MEDITECH actually led the way, with 946 hospitals, but it is Epic and Cerner that share a history of being pitted against one another.

Most recently, this match-up came head-to-head as the vendors were part of teams vying for the Department of Defense modernization contract. Cerner's team, led by Leidos, ended up winning the contract, much to the surprise of many in the industry who expected it to go to Epic's team with IBM and Impact Advisors.

In Tuesday's earnings conference call, Mr. Burke said Cerner's ability to carry out projects in a timely and effective manner is what separates it from the primary competitor.

"A key element of our success is driven by our track record for delivering projects on time and on budget, as well as creating measurable value, which aligns well with our clients' focus on making ROI-based decisions," Mr. Burke said. "I believe [our primary competitors'] list of clients, where the significant costs of deploying and maintaining their system has been cited as a key reason for financial challenges, is starting to impact them in the marketplace. This not only differentiates us in the sales process, it has also contributed to some of their existing clients switching to Cerner, even after having spent $100 million-plus on their system."

If Epic is the key competitor of which Mr. Burke speaks, one such example of a health system leaving Epic for Cerner is Phoenix-based Banner Health. In March, Banner acquired two hospitals in Tucson from the University of Arizona Health Network. The hospitals had been operating on Epic since 2013. In September, Banner decided to switch the two hospitals to Cerner, as the rest of the system's 28 hospitals use Cerner.

Mr. Burke further distinguished Cerner from its "primary competitor" by highlighting a new contract with Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health, which Cerner CEO Neal Patterson announced in his keynote address at the annual 2015 Cerner Health Conference in October. Geisinger plans to implement Cerner's Healthe Intent, a vendor-agnostic population health platform. Since the platform is vendor-agnostic, it can receive data from any EHR or IT system.

"We believe this decision makes a clear statement to the market, as Geisinger uses our primary competitor for their core EHR and is one of their longest-duration and most significant clients," Mr. Burke said in the earnings call. "We believe this demonstrates that our capabilities could not be equaled by our competitor and that the Healthe Intent platform is the right platform to support Geisinger's quest for ongoing innovation."

Geisinger has been an Epic client since 1995.

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