The High Cost Of Throwing The Flag

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief,

“What the hell is he thinking?” my friends and I asked each other, incredulous that San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh had thrown the challenge flag. “He’s nuts … Bradshaw’s knee AND elbow are both down WAY before the ball comes out!”

Being from Northern New Jersey, my friend and I are, of course, New York Giants fans. Since Ahmad Bradshaw plays for the Giants, you might thing we were engaged in some wishful thinking, but the video showed what it showed, and luckily for us, no challenge was going to change that.

After a commercial break, Joe Buck, the TV announcer, noted that the referee had performed only a “drive by” at the video review booth before coming back and announcing, of course, that the ruling on the field would stand — Bradshaw had not fumbled. Buck’s comment emphasized that the official needed to perform only the most perfunctory of reviews to confirm what we, and the rest of the universe, knew all along.

The cost to the 49ers? They lost a valuable time out and, get it right or wrong, they would only have one more challenge for the rest of the game. The NFL set up the rule to discourage frivolous or groundless challenges.

But, in this instance, that didn’t stop Harbaugh’s emotions from getting the better of him, to the detriment of his team. The 49ers were destroyed by the NY Giants on Sunday.

Last week, Allscripts seems to have made a similar groundless challenge and, win or lose, it will cost the company big time.

The salient facts are these: New York City Health and Hospital Corp. was in the market for a new EMR. Over the past few years, it has gone through an RFP process to decide on its next vendor. Epic was recently chosen over, among others, Allscripts. Citing NO issues of bribery, bid rigging or kickbacks (which are usually seen when bid decisions are challenged) Allscripts seems simply to be saying NYCHHC doesn’t know how to do math. Allscripts says it’s a LOT less expensive, while NYCHHC says Allscripts was a little less expensive, but not enough to justify that Epic is a better fit for the organization.

In football, the reviewing official would likely say that, on the grounds of inconclusive video evidence, “The ruling on the field stands.” I think it is likely the HHC Procurement Review Board will say the same thing.

And what is the cost to Allscripts of such a failed challenge? For one, I have little doubt it will keep the company out of many bidding processes in the future. I mean, it’s one thing to take your ball and go home, but Allscripts has shown that it not only won’t go home, but will stay, stomp, and not let anyone else play. Would you invite this kid to your party?

But the biggest problem is the message it sends to existing customers about the company’s focus and direction. I’m sure every customer of every EMR vendor has a list of five things they want/need done RIGHT NOW, and only the most transparent and sophisticated resource-allocation processes keep everyone at bay and calmly in line. When they see something like this, they go crazy.

“You say you need six months to make this integration happen, but you have time for THIS?” one can hear a customer asking. “How about rather than fighting with customers who DON’T want to work with you, you take care of us!”

Mega-mergers, board-room fights, rumors of going private, all amount to going left and right, but not forward.

I will never forget years ago when I was covering Wall Street, and the CEO of a huge clearing firm told me, “I’ve got a million things I can direct our organization to do. The key to being a good leader is picking which ones we should do now based on the resources at our disposal.”

That means judgment — not throwing good money after bad, taking no for an answer and figuring out how to get a yes next time, and definitely not throwing the challenge flag when there’s no evidence to overturn the call, because sometimes the greatest decision a leader can make is not what to do, but what NOT to do.


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  1. I love the analogy here. I really don’t understand Allscripts’ strategy in “throwing the flag,” and I agree that it really could backfire. It makes them look desperate, and worse than that, it delivers the message to existing customers that they are not the priority. As for Harbaugh, that’s someone who, in my opinion, needs to learn how to keep his emotions in check. If a coach can’t keep his composure during a game, how can anyone expect his players to do that?

  2. Sheri Rawlings says:

    Great post and one that reflects how I feel about the situation. As a current customer I am concerned about everything you mentioned. Strong leadership is needed in provider organizations as well as in vendor organizations, particularly during this time in healthcare. A member of my staff recently asked that I rehang an old picture on my wall that says the following: “The ultimate measure of leaders is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.” Allscripts employees and customers need their leadership team leading not throwing tantrums.

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