The first and obvious question to put in front of Glen Tullman is “What happened at Allscripts?”
Tullman came on board as Allscripts CEO in 1997, when the company was a vendor of e-prescribing technology and had $30 million in revenue and 100 employees. When he was ousted as CEO in December, the company he left had turned into a health I.T. behemoth with more than $1 billion in annual revenue and more than 7,000 employees.
Many in the health I.T. market had been closely following the drama that played out last year at the Chicago-based EHR vendor, which saw its share price and revenue plunge amid boardroom turmoil, a flirtation with taking the company private and the eventual management shake-up in December that resulted in Tullman vacating his CEO spot and President Lee Shapiro also being let go (Shapiro was asked to stay on for six months to advise new CEO Paul Black, who served on the Allscripts board and is the former COO of Cerner Corp.)
Tullman says the situation was the result of events that caused “internal and external distractions” and sent the company off the rails. First was the board dispute that led to the firing of then-chairman Phil Pead and the departure of three board members who were holdovers from Eclipsys Corp. a major hospital I.T. company that Allscripts acquired in 2010. Following that dispute were the inevitable shareholder lawsuits, and then a plan to explore taking the company private and seeking bids from private equity firms.
“The board dispute caused a lot of concerns among customers about what was going on, which hurt sales and caused the stock price to drop,” Tullman says. “The drop in revenue wasn’t a slowdown of the overall market, it was really due to self-inflicted wounds--growing pains that occur when any company makes acquisitions and has to digest new parts.”
But that’s all in the past, Tullman says. “Allscripts has an excellent management team in place and has made some very smart acquisitions in the recent buys of dbMotion and Jardogs, and the company is focused on what’s going to happen next, which is connecting all the parts of the health community.”
Tullman says that “what’s next” is where he’s going to be in the market. He and Shapiro are heading a venture firm called 7wire Ventures that they’ll use to invest in early and growth-stage companies in the health mobile application and connectivity spaces, both of which fold into new forms of care management. 7wire Ventures has to date made investments in an eclectic mix of companies, including SoCore Energy, Argo Tea, Pawngo and Ignite Glass Studios. But Tullman says he’s been on the road meeting with companies in Silicon Valley and other I.T. hotbeds to find out what’s in the health care pipeline.
“I think right now is the calm before the storm—there’s a wave of health care consumer mobile apps that can potentially make it as easy to monitor and interact with patients as it is to buy movie tickets on a smartphone,” he says. “But that requires a level of connectivity that hasn’t really been widely achieved yet, though the potential is there.”
The foundational element to all this is electronic health records, Tullman says. The technology has been taking a beating lately, with Congressional complaints about a lack of results from the meaningful use program, and a growing clamor about kludgy systems and a lack of the interoperability (to get an eyeful, check out Twitter’s #EHRbacklash hashtag).
But Tullman says that while there are certainly EHR usability issues that need to be addressed, he sees the current grumbling following Amara’s Law, which states "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run."
“When companies first start using big, expensive mainframe computers, they started complaining pretty quickly that they spent millions on them and they didn’t change anything--until they changed everything,” he says. “Now everyone needs a computer, and EHRs are the computers of the health care market. But the real power is not in just having them, but connecting them. There’s no Big Data in health care without EHRs, and in the broader markets there’s no Google or Facebook without connectivity. That’s really what’s next for health care--connecting the health system in its entirety together and continuing to build the consumer apps that let people connect to it.
“The health networks are in place, but the big challenge is around connecting them in a way that really enables care management. For example, probably 75 percent of Americans live within a few miles of a CVS or a Walgreens, which have in-store health clinics. How do you connect those networks to other health networks in a meaningful way for mobile consumers? That’s the kind of connectivity that’s the next step, and those are the kinds of movements Lee and I are going to focus our attention on.”
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