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Athenahealth, Epocrates Partner To Capture Physician Mindshare

EHR vendor's acquisition of online drug reference pioneer Epocrates could result in better mobile tools for doctors.

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Cloud-based EMR provider Athenahealth recently announced the acquisition of Epocrates, a mobile health company best known for its drug reference database. Athenahealth hopes the partnership will expand its reach, while building on Epocrates' success to date in transforming the way physicians engage with clinical information," according to a company press release.

"No other company has been able to replicate the brand awareness, familiarity, and trust that Epocrates has across the clinical mobile user base," said Jonathan Bush, president and CEO of Athenahealth.

The acquisition will benefit Athenahealth users in a number of ways, said the company. By combining Epocrates' mobile expertise with Athenahealth's cloud-based network, the companies are hoping to be better positioned to introduce new mobile apps, along with more advanced workflows. Efforts to improve workflows will initially focus on care coordination, provider-to-provider communication, and patient engagement tools, said the company.

[ For another point of view on PHRs, see Why Personal Health Records Have Flopped. ]

Shahid Shah, software analyst and author of the blog The Healthcare IT Guy, said in an email to InformationWeek Healthcare that the Epocrates acquisition is a "brilliant move" for Athenahealth from a physician mindshare perspective. "If Athenahealth is able to take all of the years of goodwill that Epocrates has gained and start associating Athenahealth's brand, products, and services to the physicians [who] use Epocrates, then they'll start off well," he said. However, he warned it's still unclear whether "Athenahealth wants to or could monetize Epocrates better than Epocrates could on its own, but they have a good initial strategy."

In a company conference call, Bush said both companies' "missions and cultures provide the perfect platform to fix strategic problems" in their businesses. For example, Epocrates is looking to build a stream of revenue from its market share and satisfaction among doctors who use its product. Athenahealth, on the other hand, is looking to gain more awareness but also marketshare.

"There are so few physicians who know who we really are," Bush said. "For years, we've been seeking a 'light' entry point for doctors to learn about and use our services and sample our capabilities. Ideally, Athenahealth 'light' exposure would include a meaningful flight of core service sets."

Bush said that assuming the deal closes, the company is planning on activating every doctor on Epocrates who opts in as an Athenahealth "sender and receiver." As a receiver, he said, physicians will receive a free sample of the AthenaClinicals applications with each inbound referral from an Athenahealth client. "…[T]hey can use the app to evaluate a patient without enduring the ramp-up exhaustion associated with a software-based EMR," he said. And if the doctor likes the experience with the app, she will have the option to upgrade to AthenaClinicals. "There's little work to deploy the simple version of the AthenaClinicals app," Bush said.

In Shah's view, "The first products they will probably offer include simpler versions of AthenaClincals and mobile versions of AthenaCoordinator products," he said. However, he said, not all Epocrates users will automatically jump to Athenahealth products or services, "so long-term value remains questionable but, given the chance for top-line growth, the risks are tolerable. Overall, it was a good acquisition."

Clinical, patient engagement, and consumer apps promise to re-energize healthcare. Also in the new, all-digital Mobile Power issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Comparative effectiveness research taps the IT toolbox to compare treatments to determine which ones are most effective. (Free registration required.)

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