While most people coming to New Orleans may have felt anxious about making a big sale or had concerns about crime or other Katrina-related troubles, I had a big uneasy feeling because my very first appointment was at a "media luncheon" sponsored by a company some feel is out to take over the world: McKesson Corp.
The San Francisco-based company is currently no. 16 on the Fortune 500 list and is aiming to climb higher with its recent acquisitions of Physician Microsystems, Per-Se Technologies and Relay Health.
I tried my best to politely find some other way to begin my HIMSS 2007 experience, but McKesson PR guy David Elliott was unrelentingand, doggone it, extremely helpful and accommodating.
"Dave," I said, "I'll probably arrive late and leave early."
"That's OK," he said.
"I'll have to come straight from the airport and I'll need to stow my suitcase somewhere safe for a couple hours," I said.
"I'll take care of it," he answered.
"I'll need to have the room swept completely free of kryptonitebut I can't tell you why," I said.
"That's not a problem," Elliott replied.
Anyway, these thoughts faded as my plane flew somewhat precariously low across what I assume was the Mississippi River and into the airport for a smooth landing. Instead, I started conjuring up visions from "A Walk on the Wild Side," Nelson Algren's novel about the extremely seedy side of Depression-era New Orleans and my own (still!) unfinished screenplay whose opening scene is set at a New Orleans racetrack in 1903. (Sorry, no more details until I finish the damn thing.)
I arrive at the luncheon as people are finishing their salads. "You're only one course behind," I was told.
"The story of my life," I reply.
I was seated at a table with Pam Pure, president of McKesson Provider Technologies, who's known to help settle the fears of some who feel her company is out to conquer the world. She can't be behind a plan to take over the world, I think, she's just so ... so nice.
In an introduction, it's mentioned that Pure was named by a local magazine as one of the top 25 most powerful businesswomen in Atlanta, and Pure starts her formal presentation with stories that help promote a "soccer mom" personaonly the sport played by her three sons is basketball.
She begins by saying that, by watching her sons' basketball games, she's learned "there's a difference between being big and being better."
"When I go to work, I don't have to worry about being big," Pure said, adding thatwith recent acquisitionssome type of McKesson technology is now present in 90% of all retail pharmacies, 50% of all hospitals and 20% of all physician offices.
McKesson is also looking at expanding in the revenue-cycle outsourcing market, and its recent partnerships with Toshiba, Intel, Red Hat and AllScripts Healthcare Solutions (which was just finalized at HIMSS) will "drive interactive connectivity" throughout the land and push more hospitals toward further automation, she said.
Pure noted how there are 550,000 physicians in the United States, with 430,000 in independent practice, and about 120,000 employed by a hospital or healthcare systemincluding 15,000 primary-care doctors and 105,000 hospital-based specialists.
The IT industry has to provide solutions specifically made for each of those three groups, Pure said, adding that McKesson is ready to fulfill their needs in software, business management, connectivity and supplies.
"They all need supplies," Pure said. "Coincidentally, McKesson is No. 1 in physician supplies."
In the nine months since its acquisition and expansion of RelayHealth, which is now a brand name for McKesson products, the corporation has had a hand in 8.5 million prescriptions, 1 billion financial transactions and 1 million patient records, Pure said.
Pure continued to list her company's recent initiatives: new wireless devices for nurses (they look something like an Etch A Sketch with a handle), online medication reconciliation programs, and "beefed up" clinical analytical reporting tools that can provide the data that the Joint Commission, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and others are asking for and that most EMR systems are still unable to capture.
In an interview after her talk, Pure admitted that the analytical tools were something of an add-on.
"I wish I could say it was our own brilliant design," Pure said. "But it was driven by customers complaining 'I spent $6 million for this system and I can't get my JCAHO reports. I want those reports, and I'm not going to pay one dollar for them.' So we got them for them."
Pure's presentation and a recent EMR vendor Connectathon were particularly impressive when compared with recent work group meetings of the American Health Information Community HHS advisory panel. Those meetings were dominated by "visioning exercises" and academic hairsplitting, while McKesson appears to be taking care of business and speeding far ahead of government activity. Whether they're doing a good job of it is for their customers and other experts to decide. Later that evening, privacy advocate and Austin, Texas-based psychiatrist Deborah Peel told me that it was her discovery of McKesson-led data-mining at her local independent pharmacy that got her started in the privacy-advocacy business in 1999.
When asked about McKesson during an interview Wednesday morning, Vern Davenport, the new Misys Healthcare Systems executive vice president, just said: "They're knitting together a nice company."
But, as AHIC tries to paint a picture of what healthcare IT will eventually look like, it appears that this picture may look something like McKesson. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen, but the contrast between listening to Pure giving a McKesson Provider Technology company update and listening to an AHIC work group droning on about "defining its scope" is like comparing cooking with the latest microwave oven and rubbing two sticks together to start a fire.
Although announced at HIMSS, McKesson's Feb. 26 purchase of Practice Partnerwith no terms disclosedflew under the radar to some degree. I had only heard positive things said about Practice Partner's EMR products and about its founder and CEO, Andrew Ury. "He gets it," is the oft-heard description of the physician entrepreneur.
After the lunch, Ury was spotted outside holding court and sporting the ear-to-ear grin of someone who just landed a big payday. I was interested in hearing from him the big-picture implications of what McKesson's purchase of his company means to the advancement of health IT adoption.
"We weren't forced into it," Ury said with his smile undiminished. "It's a good thing."
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