Oracle’s Glueck kicks back hard at Business Insider’s ‘deadly gamble’ article, Epic’s Faulkner (now with additional audio commentary)

Oracle is making great progress at the VA. And they want EHR interoperability. Epic doesn’t. Take that, Business Insider! And Judy Faulkner! Ken Glueck, an EVP at Oracle, authored an Oracle blog post (or at least one written under his name) that has generated much industry controversy. It first goes after Business Insider for daring to criticize the problems on the Oracle Cerner rollout that made it into five (count ’em, five) VA regional systems, calling it a ‘regurgitated story’. It calls the ‘deadly gamble’ headline ‘clickbait’, moves to patting itself on the back for the apparently non-problematic EHR rollout in about 3,900 locations in the DOD-Military Health System (partnering with Leidos), then swerves to stating the obvious in kicking around poor old, outdated VistA that meets very different needs and a massive population at the VA, and ends with a tap dance around the Oracle Cerner EHR problems at the VA citing all the progress that Oracle is making. It builds to a final slam fest, taking a minor quote in the article regarding why Oracle’s Larry Ellison preferred to buy Cerner–a ‘more relaxed approach to data privacy’–and expanding that to hard personal takedowns of Epic and its founder Judy Faulkner.  It then gets personal with BI, depicting the publication as “rooting against us” which he finds “invigorating”.

One can understand the craving for Oracle management to respond to BI. It’s a media outlet that apparently doesn’t have the most friendly relationship with Oracle. (But since when is that a feature of the Fourth Estate?) The article vividly takes Oracle to task, weaving together an accessible story out of dry facts and the many technical failures well documented by the VA, the OIG, and in Congressional hearings. It’s framed in the noble ambitions of Oracle’s founder Larry Ellison to transform healthcare which, in this Editor’s view, are treated sympathetically. The extremely well-read review last week of the BI article notes all, as well as the lack of contrast with the non-eventful DOD-Military Health System’s implementation and why it went largely according to plan, including the joint Lovell MHS/VA EHR. While this Editor tends to cast a gimlet eye at the clichéd mention of ‘transforming healthcare’, she still has some hope that progress in simplification, transparency, better-informed decisions, and truly intelligent assistance that enables human providers to heal their patients will be made in the next decade. And in that, she is on the side of Mr. Ellison as well as most founders and companies in health tech chronicled in TTA’s articles since 2005.

You have to give Mr. Glueck some credit for not holding back on how he really feels. Unfortunately, he was writing a corporate communication even if it was slotted in Oracle’s blog pages. He’s worked in corporate for decades and early in his career in government in the late Senator Joe Lieberman’s (D-CT) office. From the blunt view of a marketer, he should know better. Tone matters. And the frostier the tone, the better. If even a response is needed. Consider: is responding to this a smart move? What are the knock on effects?

In fact, it’s almost a textbook on how not to respond to negative press.

  • The headline sets up a straw man argumentBusiness Insider is not responsible for healthcare modernization, nor conceivably will ever be. It’s a cheap shot. 
  • The overly personal tone, written (one can guess) as he was seething about the BI article, undermines the response.
  • Nearly all of the same points could have been made in a concise, objective, fact-by-fact rebuttal that would be far more powerful in its restraint.
  • It meanders. It’s defensive. It’s easy to read into the Congressional Record or at the next hearing of the Veterans Affairs committee by a House member or Senator who’d like to see Oracle Cerner derailed at the VA. 
  • Where it truly goes off the rails is the personal invective directed at their competition. “…Epic’s CEO Judy Faulkner is the single biggest obstacle to EHR interoperability. She opposes interoperability because it threatens Epic’s franchise.” Mr. Glueck goes further in stating that Oracle enables provider collaboration across silos, while “Epic’s contracts expressly appropriate all patient EHR data as Epic’s own.” This is a fair criticism if true but maybe Epic’s hospital customers like it that way for their own reasons like security.

The blog comes across as barely restrained and defensive, especially versus Epic, the #1 EHR. When your EHR is losing ground to the competition, this is not a good look. It hands Epic another club to beat Oracle with. When your audience consists of professional hospital and practice executives, plus the VA and Congress, who right now aren’t overly happy with your EHR and are firing Oracle or considering it, this is almost guaranteed to backfire. It also gives a provocative article in a small online publication (ask Elon Musk) what Oracle doesn’t want–very long legs and a long shelf life. Plus now, there is even more reason for BI to beat up on Oracle.

Perhaps ignoring it, coupled with a sober internal communication (email/intranet/Slack) on the progress being made with the VA EHR (given that internal comms leak onto Reddit and similar), would have been the best response choices. And what about a conversation with BI? 

Like the old Sicilian saying about revenge, dishes like this should be served cold. 

Some interesting responses to the Oracle blog post are in HIStalk Reader Comments 5-31-24   Also Becker’s

And if anyone at Oracle wants a free tutorial in what not to do to respond to negative press, from the perspective of someone who’s had to deal with it in two industries….donna.cusano@telecareaware.com

Listen to Editor Donna provide extra commentary–a take on this take–on the Ken Glueck blog and this article. Now on Soundcloud (~18 minutes).

Categories: Latest News, Opinion, and Soapbox.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *