By now you may have heard the news from earlier this month about athenahealth, Inc.’s plans to acquire Epocrates, Inc. Epocrates, an innovative provider of mobile apps to the medical community, and athenahealth, a leader in offering cloud-based electronic medical records (EMR) service to medical caregivers, are equally transformative and dedicated in delivering high-quality solutions to physicians to increase their level and efficiency in patient care. However, it is their common focus on mobile health that provides the basis for the merger.

According to the press release announcing the merger, “The proliferation of mobile and the cloud in healthcare has created an excellent opportunity for the two companies to offer the physician community new mobile workflows that will redefine access to information for caregivers as they diagnose and treat patients.”

We explored what this merger may mean for the future of EMR and mobile apps. athenahealth and Epocrates responded through joint statements to explain their rationale for their merger, and we reached out to EMR experts Joan Arata,VP of Qology from CareWave, and Mark Heinold, CEO of the LDM Group, who revealed the quickly changing landscape of EMRs and how this merger could transform the way the industry approaches EMRs.

PM360: What is the rationale for the merger?

athenahealth/Epocrates: Epocrates is a natural extension of athenahealth’s current efforts and offerings in healthcare. As a trusted partner with more than 90% of physician awareness and similarly high levels of brand favorability, Epocrates will provide athenahealth with an immediate lift in recognition among physicians. Just as importantly, Epocrates’ expertise in creating best-of-breed, point-of-care mobile applications will accelerate athenahealth’s expansion into the mobile health market. It will also allow athenahealth to expand the delivery of its content and services to a far broader clinical audience. By combining the power of athenahealth’s cloud-based services with Epocrates’ unique expertise in mobile computing, the companies are setting out to redefine accessibility of information for caregivers as they diagnose and treat patients.

PM360: In your opinion, what are the implications of the athenahealth/Epocrates acquisition? Does the merger imply that the use of mobile apps is outpacing the use of traditional Electronic Medical Records?

Arata: According to the CDC, the use of EMRs and mobile apps is largely dependent on the size of a practice and the age of the physician. As the size of the practice grows, the greater the likelihood of EMR adoption, and the younger the physician, the greater the likelihood of adoption.1 Clearly, the brand name of Epocrates and the fact that it serves 330,000 U.S. physicians provides a huge opportunity for athenahealth to increase its market awareness and usage. While EMR companies struggle to build awareness and carve out competitive advantage, this acquisition provides an opportunity for a competitive edge, particularly to that important small group physician practice market.

Heinold: Providers want access to as much data as possible when and where they need it in order to make critical decisions. The use of mobile apps is a natural extension of a PC-based EMR offering. The EMR vendors will build, buy or partner to complete their mandatory mobile offerings. The industry is getting closer to having a single platform that feeds a mobile device that provides both providers and patients access to the right data in real time. athenahealth needed a mobile platform and liked the brand and pharma connections that Epocrates brought to the table.

PM360: How are mobile apps transforming the way physicians are using EMRs?

athenahealth/Epocrates: It’s undisputed that the majority of physicians have adopted mobile technology and EMRs will need to ramp up their mobile offerings. Epocrates brings powerful competitive advantages to athenahealth in the areas of mobile content delivery and expertise, which will serve as a key differentiator for athenahealth.

 Arata: The number of physicians who are using smartphones and tablets in their practice is rapidly increasing. Therefore, adding mobile apps to a traditional EMR increases its usability. For those physicians who saw EMRs and inputting data as a barrier to patient interaction, tablets provide an opportunity to input EMR data during the patient visit while continuing to face the patient and continue the interaction. As more EMRs provide mobile apps and mobile use of their software, the expectation is that adoption will increase. However, the concern about security of patient data is heightened in light of the new omnibus privacy rule released by HHS on January 17, 2013.2 EMRs must ensure compliance with both physician use of the EMR on any platform, plus access to patient data and analysis.

Heinold: Providers have been using mobile apps for years, but the fact is that the new wave of smartphones and mobile devices are much more effective in regards to fitting into a provider’s workflow both inside and outside the hospital and office. Almost all EMR vendors have the ability for a provider to access EMR data via a mobile application. This is critical, as a provider needs access in any venue of care for any patient at any time. Mobile apps pull data that is captured from EMRs or health information exchanges (HIEs), thus the mobile app is typically an extension of the EMR.

PM360: What would this acquisition mean for the pharma industry and the EMR marketing trend? Will it be the start of changing the way the industry approaches EMRs?

athenahealth/Epocrates: We believe there will be opportunity for our pharma partners to become more immersed in physicians’ workflow and support patient education and adherence. These are areas that we’ll be exploring as the companies come together and set out to redefine accessibility of information for caregivers as they diagnose and treat patients.

Arata: This acquisition reinforces that EMRs, particularly those with mobile capabilities, are the next horizon for physician communication. Pharma must provide perceived value to the physician, which means they will have to work with partners who can help them deliver rich content as well as rich media to physicians through their EMR and the available mobile apps.

This acquisition also opens the door to EMR companies seeking ways to commercialize mobile apps. According to a recent survey, almost one-third of providers currently use their smartphones or tablets to access EMR systems, with 20% expecting to start engaging in this mobile usage within the next year.3 Supporting this workflow with valuable content and information provides increasing opportunities for pharma.

Heinold: As the EMR marketing trend continues to become mainstream, you will see a natural progression to applying the same content to be delivered to a provider’s mobile app. Pharma wants provider attention just as if they were sitting in front of a PC, thus pushing content to a mobile app is a natural progression for pharma marketing. The overarching key here is to not to overload the provider with content that may be disruptive to workflow. Pharma marketers are now dabbling in EMR marketing, and as pharma sales rep access becomes more limited and as the opportunities to message a provider in the EMR workflow show solid impact, pharma marketers will be more attracted to this channel.

Mobile apps are continuing to transform the way physicians use EMRs. As more physicians turn to mobile technology to treat patients, EMR systems and access must naturally change. The athenahealth and Epocrates’ merger can certainly give new attention to mobile EMRs and provide the impetus for pharma to begin thinking about strategies in this space. Mobile EMRs will give pharma an opportunity to provide physicians with valuable and engaging content in the EMR workspace. The merger could also mean that traditional EMR companies increase their mobile capabilities and cloud-based EMR companies find new ways to remain unique and competitive.

References:

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db98.htm
  2. http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20130117/NEWS/301179957#ixzz2ILE8bG1F
  3. http://mobihealthnews.com/14703/half-of-doctors-to-use-medical-apps-by-2012/

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