Athenahealth announced plans to acquire Epocrates, maker of widely used mobile and desktop reference tools for healthcare professionals. Left unsaid at the time was what happened to an EHR that Epocrates had rolled out with much fanfare in 2011.
This week, Kareo, an Irvine, Calif.-based company that sells practice management software and services, said that it had bought Epocrates intellectual property last year and incorporated the technology into a new EHR being offered free to small physician practices, generally those with five or fewer doctors. Kareo also announced that it has hired former Epocrates chief medical information officer Dr. Thomas Giannulli to serve in a similar role.
"This deal was consummated in June," Giannulli confirmed to InformationWeek Healthcare. "We wanted to make sure the product could be transferred [before making a public announcement]," he explained. The Kareo EHR incorporates Epocrates technology, but Giannulli said it is a new product, available as native iPhone and iPad apps or through a Web browser.
[ HIMSS plans to launch an interoperability innovation center in Cleveland's Center for Global Health Innovation. Read more at HIMSS Plans New EHR Testing Ground. ]
Epocrates debuted a native iPad version of its EHR software at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference in February 2012. But only a week later, the San Mateo, Calif.-based company announced its intention to exit the EHR business in favor of its core market. At the time, Giannulli told InformationWeek Healthcare that the Epocrates EHR "wasn't feature-complete yet."
Unlike other free EHRs, such as a popular offering from Practice Fusion, the Kareo system does not contain advertising. Instead, Kareo is following a "freemium" business model, using the EHR as a starting point from which to sell practice management software and services, though users will not be required to buy other Kareo products. "It's kind of a gesture of goodwill," said Giannulli.
Kareo said practices will own and control all clinical data they generate with the EHR.
Giannulli said that the new Kareo EHR has four key characteristics: It is Web-native, written in HTML5 and run in the cloud; it was "conceived with mobile and Meaningful Use in mind"; its clinical knowledge base is geared toward primary care; and design has been focused on usability.
He said that the system automatically scores and accounts for Meaningful Use requirements "as a byproduct of normal use" so physicians do not need to go back later and check for compliance in order to earn federal EHR incentive payments.
The clinical knowledge base, which Epocrates spent three years developing, is loaded with the top 100 medical problems primary care physicians encounter. This, Giannulli said, helps accelerate documentation and order entry. For this release, Kareo added the ability for physicians to customize the knowledge base to their own needs, such as for specialty care or clinics that focus on an even narrower set of services.
Also, according to Giannulli, Kareo designed its EHR to reduce the physician's learning curve. "You can get comfortable in an hour," he promised. He noted that EHR usability "is something that has been an issue with other products."
As large healthcare providers test the limits, many smaller groups question the value. Also in the new, all-digital Big Data Analytics issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Ask these six questions about natural language processing before you buy. (Free with registration.)