A New Partnership Between Varian and Flatiron Signifies Change in the Digital Oncology Marketplace

The new partnership announced today between Varian Medical Systems and Flatiron Health hits on many of the keywords in the digital space these days, including cloud-based technology, EHR, data analytics, and decision-support software. Varian is known as a market leader in radiation oncology software and Flatiron acquired Altos who makes the leading web-based oncology-focused EMR, called OncoEMR. But with the pairing of these two companies, we wondered if it is all about strength in marketing, big data, or is it about synergies to help provide oncologists with new tools and improve quality cancer care? OBR talked to Sukhveer Singh, Vice President, Oncology Continuum Solutions, Varian Medical Systems and Zach Weinberg, Co-Founder, President, and COO at Flatiron to see if we could better understand the underpinnings of the alliance.

Both companies consider themselves market leaders in their respective specialties: Varian in radiation oncology and Flatiron in oncology-specific EMRs. Varian publicly states that the ARIA platform is used in more than 3,400 radiation oncology centers worldwide, while Flatiron states that there are over 220 community oncology practices and/or cancer centers using OncoEMR. By partnering, they hope to build upon their respective areas of expertise and provide a comprehensive suite of products that encompass radiation oncology, medical oncology, and data analytics. “We want to leverage the complementary nature of our products” said Mr. Singh.

According to Singh, “the ARIA software platform provides solutions for managing patient care and treatments. Historically, we have been responsible for most of the innovations in radiation oncology software. That is what we want to build upon now.”

Regarding the partnership, Mr. Weinberg told us, “we offer two different products for the oncology provider – a cloud-based oncology EHR called OncoEMR, and a data analytic tool called OncoAnalytics, which helps providers with their day-to-day decision making. Both companies are addressing provider-facing problems in any setting, whether academic or community based, and are hoping the partnership will address problems across the continuum of care in radiation and medical oncology.”

What are those problems that the partnership hopes to solve?

Mr. Weinberg describes the silos in oncology as radiation oncology, surgical oncology, medical oncology, and other care providers that are not easily sharing information. The hope is that this partnership will allow cross-communication and breakthrough each of those silos resulting in improved care.

How, specifically, do they intend to help physicians break down the silos?

“The partnership is about product integration, about making OncoEMR interoperable with all the products in the ARIA software suite. We want to make all of these ‘best of breed’ services work together seamlessly,” said Weinberg.

“The most exciting thing is where we want to go together. We believe that software, informatics, and analytics, can become the backbone of a patient’s journey from diagnosis to survivorship,” said Singh.

Weinberg agrees, “you can see both the depth and breadth from this partnership – breadth in terms of the number of customers that the combined offering will cover, and depth because we will now start to see data across the continuum, and not just medical or radiation oncology data.”

Adding value to the continuum of care
Cancer patients are treated by more than one specialty, meaning medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists, in addition to a psychiatrist, dietician and other members of the treatment team. Varian and Flatiron feel the value in this partnership is in care coordination.

According to Weinberg, the value in this integration from the medical oncology standpoint can be as basic as “did my patient receive the radiation treatment they were scheduled to receive?” to the seamless workflow across the patient care continuum which benefits both providers and patients.

Regarding analytics, Weinberg says, “the key with analytics is having a full picture of the patient… Over time, all of the medical oncology and radiation oncology data will flow into a central place. And then both companies will be offering different analytic solutions depending on the problem at hand. In that way, analytics will become enhanced regardless of which company is offering them because the two systems are interoperable.”

Singh noted that “this is a unique value proposition because we are making decision support accessible at the point of care. We are working toward a rapid cycle of gathering high-quality data, converting that data into insights, and making those insights available to the physicians at point of care when the patient is being treated.”

Physicians will still be able to purchase ARIA and/or OncoEMR separately, depending on what is best for the customer. The brand names will stay the same. Initially, the focus will be in the United States, but all of the product enhancements will be offered internationally as well.

by Don Sharpe

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