April 11, 2012
Tell me about yourself and about DrFirst.
I started in healthcare in the pharmacy benefits management industry. I joined PCS Health Systems in the early ‘90s and spent about 10 years there, largely in product management. I worked in developing what were at that time brand new concepts, like tiered formularies, closed formularies, and performance-based programs.
After the fourth acquisition of PCS, I left and joined NDCHealth, primarily to help them get their e-prescribing initiative off the ground. At the time, they were very much aiming to be what Surescripts is today. I spent about a year working on that with them until they decided there really wasn’t much benefit in continuing to pursue that direction. I moved instead to working with their EMR and practice management system strategy. In 2004, I joined DrFirst.
To give you a little background on DrFirst, the company started January 1, 2000. It was founded by Jim Chen, who is still CEO of the company today. Jim was one of early inventors of virtual private networks in his previous company, V-ONE . He believed that he could use that VPN technology he developed to deliver affordable systems to physicians in an ASP environment.
Toward that end, in the very earliest days of the company, he went out and bought a worldwide unlimited license to NextGen and set the company up as a NextGen VAR. He quickly realized that wasn’t something that DrFirst could scale. It wasn’t really going to get the company where he wanted to be.
In 2001, the company started working on an e-prescribing system, with some early pilots at MedStar Health System and Kaiser Permanente. They eventually developed a product with a real nice workflow that became the core technology that would take the company through the next eight or nine years.
Around 2004, we decided that it really wasn’t going to be a long-term proposition to be an e-prescribing company. It was clear even then that the industry would eventually move away toward EMR, and e-prescribing would just be a part of a larger application. That was the year we started developing our platform strategy that we would put together a set of technology platforms to try to fill some of the gaps that other vendors had in their capabilities or strategies.
We started with our e-prescribing system since that’s what we had at the time. Tore it apart into its constituent pieces and offered it out as a platform for other vendors.
MediNotes was our first client. Since then, an additional 249 EMRs have selected us as a technology platform to build their e-prescribing on top of. Since then, we continued forward with e-prescribing. We’ve developed a modular EHR for Meaningful Use that we consider a step up from e-prescribing. And then we have this very large set of partnerships with EMR vendors to which we can transition physicians when they’re ready to make that next step to a fully paperless office.
On the application side, we’re pursuing a step-wise approach for physicians. In the broader scheme of things we’re developing, we’re continuing to develop a series of platforms to fill gaps that we see in healthcare.
The company was offering back in 2000 what we would call cloud technology today. Now you’re moving into something like apps, working with other systems to offer specialized functionality. That’s good foresight. Do you think other vendors will build products to plug into existing products that may have shortcomings?
We’ve seen a couple of other companies get into the space, primarily around e-prescribing. For us, all of the platforms we offer reinforce one another. We don’t think there’s a lot of benefit in going at it piecemeal, just picking a technology and saying, “Hey, we’re going to do that one.”
For instance, I mentioned that we started with our e-prescribing platform. About that same time, we also offered a hosting platform for payer information — eligibility, medication history, formulary. That way, as physicians adopted e-prescribing, if there were payers that weren’t hosted by Surescripts, we would be able to provide the hosting service, so that physicians in a specific area, whether they were in a hospital or in the ambulatory space, they would be able to access this payer data they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. And payers, who for whatever reason chose not to be hosted, would have access to the technology so they could get their information out to their physicians.
We subsequently offered another platform for hospitals. It provided medication history as the front end of a medication reconciliation process and discharge prescribing as the back end. Those, of course, are reinforced by the fact that we’ve got e-prescribing out in the ambulatory environment feeding into the hospital admissions process, and then have the information coming back out of the hospital available to all those e-prescribing physicians.
All of our platforms are like that, all tying together in some way that reinforces the community aspect of healthcare, as well as the different stakeholders and what they might want out of the processes. So yes, I think other companies will get into the apps space. I hope we’re doing it in a more integrated way that will have lasting value to people who participate on our platforms.
There are people who are critical of almost any given technology, from CPOE to Meaningful Use, but e-prescribing was such a natural that nobody seemed to rally a defense against it. Do you think the battle of getting e-prescribing adoption has been won?
Absolutely! It’s a very interesting point. It’s exactly true. If you think about the claims side of the business, pharmacy actually was well ahead of medical claims in getting their act together in that space. Again, I started healthcare with PCS, and even back in ‘90s, everything was pretty buttoned down as far as pharmacy claims.
It was no big surprise to me that pharmacy got out ahead on the e-prescribing side as well. They had a well-established standards-setting organization in NCPDP. They had a track record of cooperation between vendors and payers. So yes, I think the battle actually was won a long time ago, but we’re just continuing to watch it play out now as we move to the mainstream of physicians.