Epic As The HIE Backbone?

Posted on June 6, 2011 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Today I got a rather interesting response to a question I’d posted on question and answer site Quora.com.  I’d originally asked whether anyone thought giant EMR vendor Epic would go public anytime soon, but the conversation has veered a bit.

The comment that caught my eye:

“Unless HIE standards are adopted quickly over the next 5 years, interoperability of health records will at some point require a single, strong player.  Outside of claims data from the top 4 insurers, Epic is the only EHR company that has large enough stake to play this role.”

The poster, one Akshay Kapur, doesn’t say whether he’s an Epic employee, competitor or health IT end user, so I’m not sure what prejudices he brings to the table in making such a statement. That being said, his assertions are worth a thought or two.

To date, the growth of HIEs has been terribly stunted, in part because each has to essentially reinvent the wheel when they launch. Sure, they may be doing similar work but not necessarily interoperable work, so they’re far from achieving the kind of universal data sharing everyone dreams about today. (Their pricing models have been very dodgy as well, but that’s another story.)

So, would it help the HIE market coalesce if a big player like Epic laid down the tracks? Almost certainly. The HIE model has nowhere to go but up.

But would it be a good thing?  I suppose that depends on where you sit. My guess is that one-vendor domination of the HIE market could be very helpful at first but would ultimately impose a choke collar on the industry. Talk about vendor lock-in: if a whole HIE and its users was tied to any single technology, imagine how hard it would be to shift gears.

From where I stand, I’d rather see HIEs struggle their way into a viable model rather than relying on any single company. But hey, maybe that’s just me.