While giving feedback on his population health management (PHM) vendor, one CIO (let’s call him Tom) observed the following:
“Population health is an emerging area, so no vendor is really doing well in it right now. The entire market is in its infancy.”
No vendor is really doing well in it right now?
It just so happens that Tom rated his vendor among the best in a new KLAS report, Population Health Management 2015: How Far Can Your Vendor Take You?
An Infant Market?
Tom is right to say the “entire market is in its infancy.” KLAS has been studying PHM vendors for a few years now, and the market still has all the signs of earliness.
- There is an abundance of vendors for providers to sift through.
- Each vendor comes at the problem from a different direction or fills a specific niche.
- Many vendors have only a handful of customers.
In fact, most of the vendors covered in this report received only “early” scores because KLAS was unable to collect evaluations for those vendors from at least 15 unique organizations.
The interesting thing is that some of these vendors are getting significant praise from their customers. 9 out of 24 vendors—including Tom’s—received a score of 80 or higher (out of 100). Only 2 scored below 70.
If no vendor is doing well, why is it that some of these vendors seem to actually be doing pretty well?
The Secret Is in the Service
In an emerging market, being a good vendor doesn’t mean being perfect right out of the gate or right out of the box. In many ways, that’s impossible now; not only are solutions in the process of maturing, but providers themselves are still figuring out what PHM means for them—and discovering that it’s a moving target.
Under these circumstances, a good vendor is one that is attentive and flexible enough to adapt alongside their customers. Consider what else Tom had to say:
“We have had to push [our vendor] a bit in regard to their knowledge of population health management. We have provided them with scenarios they haven't seen before. . . . We have been working with [them] to change how some of their products work so that they meet our needs. [They have] been amenable to doing that.”
To Select a Product is to Select a Partner
In 235 conversations, KLAS asked providers what drove them to choose their current PHM vendor. We then asked what about their vendor relationship 1) stood out in a positive way and 2) seemed to create the worst challenges. Answers were related to five key areas:
- Solution – Can the vendor’s tools and services meet core needs?
Appropriately, most providers said that the capabilities of their potential PHM solution were top of mind as they went shopping. Almost as many had something positive to say about their solution, but nearly as many had significant complaints. The takeaway? Capabilities are a good starting point but not a slam dunk.
- Vendor – Does the vendor have the expertise and integrity needed in a trusted partner?
More than half of providers said they were attracted by a vendor characteristic. Most often, they leaned toward vendors either with a reputation as an industry leader or with whom the providers already had some sort of relationship (e.g. consultants or EMR vendors). Providers had much less to say about their vendor’s character, good or bad, once the contract had been signed. The takeaway? These things get a vendor in the door but become much less important after the sale.
- Data access – With minimal effort, can the tool reliably retrieve, aggregate, and normalize disparate data?
A PHM solution is only as good as the data that populates it. Unfortunately, many vendors downplay how difficult it is to acquire, aggregate, and normalize data from the many sources that vendors claim their products can handle. As a result, twice as many providers expressed frustration as did gratitude about data access. The takeaway? Before signing, make sure your data ducks are in a row by securing data sources and written time and quality commitments from vendors.
- Cost – Will the solution fit a budget and provide measurable return?
Very few providers specifically named cost as a primary criterion. That does not mean that money is no object; budgets will always be the first hurdle. The situation is rather evidence that PHM solutions are far from a commodity that can be indiscriminately bargained for. The takeaway? Get ready to spend and/or compromise.
- Service – Does the vendor have the resources and willpower to help ensure that providers get the greatest possible value from their investment.
For many providers, acceptable service levels were an unspoken expectation; only 10% said that was a decision driver. Yet this was where the best vendors shined once their customers realized how much ongoing work was needed to customize functionality and ensure a timely flow of reliable data. Almost five times as many providers offered praise for vendor service than said it was on their minds when making a decision. The takeaway? Like Tom, look for a vendor that commits to be open, flexible, responsive, attentive, and proactive—and can back that up with the right personnel.
Which Vendors Are Doing it Right?
Whether you are looking for a new solution or just wondering how your current experience compares with others’, please refer to vendor-specific details in the KLAS report titled Population Health Management 2015: How Far Can Your Vendor Take You?
Even if your vendor is not among the 24 rated, this report can provide a good perspective on what to expect or look for. The report’s 24 vendors are the following: Advisory Board, Allscripts, athenahealth, Caradigm, Cerner, Conifer Health Solutions, eClinicalWorks, Enli, Epic, Evolent Health, Forward Health Group, Healthagen, i2i Systems, IBM (Explorys and Phytel), Lumeris, McKesson, Medecision, Optum, Premier, Rise Health, Valence Health, Verisk Health, and Wellcentive.