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HIStalk Interviews Steve Brewer, CEO, Galen Healthcare

February 16, 2016 Interviews No Comments

Steve Brewer is CEO of Galen Healthcare Solutions of Grosse Pointe Farms, MI.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m CEO of Galen Healthcare, based in our Chicago office. Somehow I guess I’ve turned into one of the old timers in this industry now [laughs]. I was just looking at my schedule and can’t believe I’m about to head off to my 22nd straight HIMSS, which is truly unbelievable. That’s a lot of booth time, a lot of bad carpet.

Galen is essentially a consulting and technology services company. What makes us unique is combining incredible clinical and domain expertise with some of Galen’s proprietary technology platform and tool sets. It’s a combination of those two things, which are a unusual for a firm viewed as a consulting company.

We were just named "Best in KLAS" in both of our core categories. I just arrived here last fall, so I get no credit for that other than really good timing.

Are you seeing results from the KLAS awards or do you expect to?

We are. We’re seeing a lot of inbound activity.

Galen is pretty well known in our core markets. We’ve done hundreds of clinical conversions and EHR optimizations across a bunch of platforms, but we’re a smaller private company, so I wouldn’t say that we’re broadly known throughout the industry. It’s certainly great for name recognition. We’re excited about showing up at HIMSS to leverage some of that, to let people know more about Galen.

What issues keep you busiest these days?

The history of the company is interesting. It was started about 10 years ago by three gentlemen — who I knew back then — who left Allscripts to start a services business. They saw that no matter how good of a job Allscripts did on their side of implementation, most of the clients were going through it for the first time. They hadn’t been through it before and needed assistance. That was the early days of Galen, helping out at some of the largest early EHR implementations in the industry.

What we’re seeing now is a shift. People who have made these huge investments in clinical and financial systems want to leverage those. Our work has shifted a lot up towards conversions, archival, and technical integration of systems, connecting to HIEs and others. There’s been a lot of consolidation and M&A activity in the industry. Having all these systems truly interoperable and moving data in and out of them, or shifting people from one system to another, has become a big part of our work effort.

How are customers using your service that allows them to store and access information from their retired systems?

It’s one of our newer services. We’ve been doing conversions for quite a while and are probably the leader in that space. When one of our large clients acquires a practice or merges with another health system, we for years have done a lot of that  hardcore technical and clinical mapping of the data to get them converted. What we’ve added now, since we have all their data, is the ability to archive and retire those legacy systems.

It varies across the board which systems they are going to. We have been involved in numerous conversions to Epic and Cerner. We have a lot of large Allscripts clients who acquire practices and retire some of the older systems from the practices they’ve just bought. It’s across the board.

What are the most common systems you’re converting from and to?

The largest ones have clearly been to Epic. We’ve had some recent activity with regard to Cerner and Meditech. You’ll see a lot of the ambulatory systems that have been in the market who maybe get caught up in a large Epic conversion, even though they might be very happy with the system they have, and the ambulatory system is going to go away as part of that Epic conversion. Standards or not, that integration and conversion is a pretty significant effort that most of those groups haven’t been through.

Who do you admire in the industry?

I’ve seen a lot in those 22-plus years when I headed off to HIMSS in San Antonio in 1995, so it’s been a few different iterations of companies that have been success stories.

I was involved in a company here in Chicago, Enterprise Systems, that went public, got acquired, and then got acquired again my McKesson. That was interesting. I was there in the early days of Allscripts and the growth and the innovation of leading EHR adoption in the industry was very impressive. It would certainly be hard to ignore what Epic has done over the last five or 10 years, one of the probably great business success stories — even beyond healthcare — in the US over that time period.

How do you approach the HIMSS conference as a vendor?

I’ve always enjoyed it. To me, it’s a great event where a lot of people come out in the industry. It’s certainly a hectic four or five days, but I find it to be a lot of fun.

At Galen, it’s a little different. We’re a small private company. We’ve enjoyed nice steady growth, but world domination or some billion-dollar market cap hasn’t been the strategy. The strategy has been to build a great company and attract super smart people who enjoy being here and who are proud of the work they do for their clients.

From that standpoint, we’re going to be in a 20×30 booth. Hopefully people will know about us and come see us. We know our clients will. We’ll look to continue our reputation and steady growth. You won’t see us in one of those mammoth, block-long, multi-story booths at HIMSS. It’s a little different event for a company like ours, but still exciting.

What should HIMSS attendees ask consulting firms they’re talking to in the exhibit hall?

There’s a lot of different flavors of consulting companies out there. From our standpoint, it’s the combination of the technology we bring to the table as well as the people. A lot of the bigger companies focus on the staffing effort and the professional services, which we certainly do, but we are typically combining that with technical services, integration, and the like.

People should focus on, what’s your history? What do your clients think about you, and specifically, what are they trying to get done? I mentioned our niches earlier around EHR optimization, conversions, implementations, and a lot of the other tool sets we bring to the table.

You see massive efforts in this industry, billion-dollar investments to put these systems in place, and now with HIEs and the like. Where many people are falling down is on the integration piece, on that last mile of connectivity to the practices. Those are the areas we focus on. We coexist well with a lot of the other traditional consulting companies that are out there that typically don’t focus on that.

Population health and information security are hot topics. What are you doing in those areas?

As you’ll see at HIMSS, everybody in some way or another is positioning themselves as a pop health company, or patient engagement, or analytics. They all intersect. Galen’s role in that is making the data that those systems need accessible and relevant to do true pop health and to do true analytics across cohorts and population bases. That’s really what we do.

A lot of this data is stuck in EHRs. It’s stuck in other systems. We’ve worked with a lot of those HIEs and pop health products to get the data in and out so that those systems can do their work.

Security is certainly a big focus of ours as well. Anybody in this industry has to be focused on it. Galen might manage those overall projects, but I wouldn’t position us as a security consulting provider. There are some folks who specialize in that exactly.

You’ve won some awards for being a good place to work, which is probably tough as a consulting company where folks are remote or travel a lot. How do you manage the people side of it?

It’s probably tied to what I mentioned earlier, that the culture’s a little different and our end game is a little different, which makes it a great place to work. We don’t have outside investors. We’re just excited about having a really positive work environment where people learn new skills and enjoy what they do. That’s reflected in the rankings.

You’re right, it’s a heavy travel job and it’s a very intensive job for our consultants, so we very much appreciate their time away from families and the like. We try and balance that load to make sure it’s a sustainable job for them. A big part of what we do on the technical services side can be done from our offices rather than on site at clients, which helps.

Give me three bold predictions for the next five years.

I’m not sure how bold these are, but after years of talk, I think we are finally going to see some very rapid movement in a few areas. 

First, the new payer models will be here for real. That is going to increase the shift in patient services to new settings of care, such as retail, urgent care, and ASCs. This will also speed up the already active consolidation amongst health systems in the market. 

Another area I see acceleration is in the blurring of the lines between payer and provider as these organizations come together to manage risk and control cost. 

Additionally, we will see a shift to the next phase of connected care, where the EHR is no longer the center of the universe, but rather just one of many data collection and feedback tools that need to interact seamlessly with other surrounding systems. 

For Galen, I think these trends will match up well with our focus on optimization of current platforms while our clients also prepare for this changing environment. These new initiatives will require deep integration, conversion, and project management skills to keep pace with the market and patient needs. We’ll look back and see if I got any of this correct, but in any case, we will continue to adapt our business as the priorities of our clients evolve.

And if you’ll allow me to pick a fourth bold prediction, I’ll take the Bears to win the Super Bowl next year.

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