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HIStalk Interviews Matthew Hawkins, President, Sunquest

February 18, 2016 Interviews No Comments

Matthew Hawkins is president of Sunquest of Tucson, AZ.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

Sunquest is a market-leading provider of laboratory software to more than 1,700 laboratories. We help laboratories optimize their results to drive improved financial outcomes, improve patient safety, and work effectively across healthcare systems.

I have been with Sunquest for more than a year and a half now and love it. We have a great team of people here. We are headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, with more than 700 employees. I live in Tucson, where the business is headquartered, and thoroughly enjoy the company.

Software vendors selling standalone lab, pharmacy, and radiology systems have been hit hard as customers move to integrated offerings from Cerner and Epic or get bought by larger health systems that use those systems. How has that impacted your business?

I would emphasize that Sunquest continues to grow. Sunquest, as part of this growth, is absolutely committed to innovation and very focused on helping laboratories work effectively across an enterprise.

For example, Sunquest was a founding member of the CommonWell Health Alliance. We believe that interoperability across applications is very important. We don’t believe that any health system should have to sacrifice capability to select an enterprise. We think that our steadfast focus on helping laboratories do the best work they can outpaces the benefits of being part of an enterprise system.

Does the laboratory information systems business look simple until you understand what’s involved and the level of EHR integration that’s required?

On the surface, it could be perceived as easy. What actually is the case is it’s a very dynamic business. Laboratories play such an important role in the delivery of great healthcare.

Here’s a couple of stats that are surprising, but very important to understand. Laboratory testing represents typically less than two percent of overall healthcare spend, but influences more than 70 percent of all patient outcome and management decisions. Laboratory-related data makes up the majority of any patient’s electronic health record.

In some cases, there are basic blood tests, for example, that have become relatively simple to perform. In other cases, laboratory work is becoming increasingly sophisticated as our understanding of molecular and genetic science, for example, enables us to learn and understand so much more about a patient’s health.

Sunquest’s focus on laboratory excellence covers more advanced aspects of pathology, for example, in the cellular sciences — anatomic and microbiology, for example — as well as molecular and genetic testing capabilities. I feel that the next decade will enable us to know more about how to care for patients than any decade before. Hence, laboratories are becoming in some cases much more sophisticated operations than they’ve ever been.

Genetic and genomic data is a large amount of information that has to be immediately available in the work flow. How do you position the company against EHR vendors that may also see that as a market opportunity?

We see Epic and Cerner as nice electronic health record companies. The great news is that Sunquest integrates with them very effectively. We take large data sets — molecular and anatomic test results and now genetic test results — and can have those interpreted and put into a digestible report that can be inserted right into an electronic health record — for example, from an Epic or a Cerner or others — and be used in a clinical application to care for and treat a patient.

I would just emphasize that Sunquest’s commitment here is second to none. We’ve had a few recent acquisitions that I’d love to highlight, one of which is an investment — not a full acquisition yet, but an investment — that we’ve made in a business called GeneInsight, which is a genetic testing software platform developed by the folks at Harvard Medical School and the Laboratory for Molecular Medicine in Boston. It has been in continuous clinical use since 2005. Test result reports that are very complex and data-rich can be simplified and included in an electronic health record setting so that the ordering physician can use that to treat a patient.

What has changed in the almost four years since Sunquest’s private equity owners sold the company to a publicly traded industrial company, Roper Technologies?

Several things have changed. It’s a very exciting time at Sunquest.

We are financially backed by Roper Technologies. Roper Technologies is a publicly traded technology company listed on the New York Stock Exchange that invests for long-term growth and success of its businesses. We’re thrilled by that because that gives Sunquest a stable home.

In the last approximately year and a half since I joined Sunquest, we’ve had a considerable ramp-up in our internal product development efforts. We’ve invested heavily in product management and in product development. We have approximately 30 percent of our staff today that has been in and around a clinical setting or have clinical training and expertise. As a result of this last year and a half plus worth of effort, in 2016 alone, we plan to launch 15 substantial product upgrades, including two or three new product launches.

There’s a lot of things that have happened in the last few years since Roper acquired Sunquest. Many of these product upgrades include Web-based applications and support for the latest mobile devices. That’s what’s been going on organically.

We’ve also announced a new headquarters location for the business that promises very exciting things for our team members and employees, with great areas to collaborate and areas in which to work in an inspired setting in Tucson. We’re thrilled by that.

The other thing I would say that as far as Roper’s investment in the business, it hasn’t stopped. In fact, in the last 12 months, Roper — who is typically the acquirer of every company that it acquires and then will bolt them on or tuck them under the platform of various companies — has acquired three businesses that directly became part of the Sunquest platform. A business called Data Innovations, a business called Atlas Medical, and then a business called CliniSys, which is headquartered in Europe.

These acquisitions create across the Sunquest growing platform a unique breadth of capabilities that support laboratories in all of their facets, from connecting laboratories to very sophisticated lab instruments and equipment manufactured by the likes of Roche or Abbot or Beckman or others. Also, they help Sunquest solutions and Sunquest clients connect effectively to the healthcare communities, physician offices, and other places where — in the future and increasingly so — lab tests will be ordered and lab results will be shared with patients to improve the way patient care is delivered.

CliniSys has a large global footprint. How do you pair that up with the Sunquest offering for synergy or product alignment?

I’ll tell you a little more about Sunquest international business. That will bring this into a richer, more fulsome view.

Sunquest has approximately 1,700 laboratories that it works with. Nearly 200 of those are outside the United States and North America. Many are in Europe and in the United Kingdom.

For example, we have laboratory clients in the UK and in the Middle East that are a part of the Sunquest laboratory platform, and some in Australia. Sunquest also has a product called Sunquest ICE, which is an integrated clinical exchange solution that is in approximately 75 percent of the market in the UK, across several trust systems, et cetera.

The way we see CliniSys working closely with Sunquest, CliniSys has a market-leading presence in the United Kingdom for laboratory software. That will play very well working with the Sunquest Integrated Clinical Exchange product that will enable very efficient lab ordering and lab resulting back to the general practitioners in the United Kingdom.

CliniSys is also a market leader in France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. We think about CliniSys as being the Sunquest of Europe. We’re very excited about the opportunity to collaborate and identify ways that we can help our shared clients in the UK as well as new clients across Europe and other parts of the world take advantage of the efficiencies that our software can help deliver to those clients to emphasize the role of the laboratory in offering great healthcare services.

You made it clear in your introduction that Sunquest is a laboratory information system business, but at one time the company offered other software products, such as for radiology and pharmacy. Will that laboratory focus continue or would Roper consider non-laboratory acquisitions that might be paired with Sunquest products?

At Sunquest, our mission is to make healthcare smarter and patients safer. We believe that our focus on laboratories will enable those smart healthcare solutions. But in focusing on laboratories, we immediately see adjacent areas of focus as well that come into play and that we’re focused on organically as well as through Roper’s acquisition.

Let me highlight just a couple. One is, again, the advancement of precision medicine. It hasn’t historically played directly into the lab, but we believe it is absolutely becoming front and center in the way that patients will be treated. In the partnership today with GeneInsight, we are putting that software technology right into the heart of Sunquest and enabling those solutions to work for all of our clients.

Another exciting area that isn’t necessarily a core part of the lab today — but we believe will be and should be because of the incredibly important clinical data that laboratories produce — is in the whole world of analytics. We are launching a platform called Sunquest Analytics. We’re making significant investments in that platform, but in the future, that platform could also be bolstered by future acquisition opportunities aided by Roper as well.

Those are two examples of many that we’re focused on as we continue to round out Sunquest growing from a laboratory software platform to becoming a diagnostic solutions partner to the clients that we work with every day.

The industry is watching with fascination the train wreck that is Theranos. Do you think there’s lessons learned there for your business?

Absolutely. We believe that some lab tests — the basic lab tests and ones that don’t typically require a lot of consultative interaction with the pathologist — are likely to become more managed by a disruptive technology like a Theranos. There is probably a place in the market for those types of disruptive technologies for basic lab tests. We’re watching that very closely.

We also work with a number of high-performing, comprehensive laboratories that manage millions of lab tests and very sophisticated, complex cases every day. We see a segment of the market continuing to become more and more sophisticated given technology and clinical capabilities and understanding.

We’re excited about both ends of the market. We’ll continue to watch for and enable those disruptive technologies ourselves if we have the opportunity to do so, for the simple, direct-to-patient type testing capabilities. But for the comprehensive and complex test cases, we have comprehensive solutions that address those cases and enable the clients that we work with to manage those cases in a time-effective, cost-effective and patient safety-focused manner.

Where do you see the company in five years?

We see Sunquest continuing to grow and make significant headway in laboratory-related and diagnostic-related technologies that make healthcare smarter, improve patient safety, and deliver patient outcomes. The team members at Sunquest are truly inspired by our mission. We’re crazy enough to believe that, as we focus every day on serving our clients and on delivering innovative solutions, we can positively impact the lives of up to a billion patients. That’s our goal.

In five years, we see a company that’s passionate about serving our clients, committed to innovation in and around the laboratory that enables cost savings as well as dramatic work flow improvements that take direct costs out of the lab, but also dramatically impacts the indirect costs associated with downstream savings. For example, reduction in length of stay or reduction in returning to the hospital because patients weren’t diagnosed accurately the first time.

We’ll do this through dramatic improvements in the clinical applications around genetic testing and molecular testing. We’ll do this through the use of analytic information that’s produced by the laboratory to influence and help aid in physician diagnoses and patient outcomes. We’ll do this through helping health systems optimize the way they interact with laboratories. I’m very excited about the future for Sunquest.

Do you have any final thoughts?

We are really delighted that you would take the time to visit with us. I’m excited about being at Sunquest and about working with the team of very focused and dedicated people and helping to deliver solutions to our laboratory clients that make a difference in patients’ lives.

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