Microsoft EMR: It’s Not Just a Matter of When, It’s a Matter of Who

This guest post ties nicely to some of what I have been writing about regarding why I think firms like Apple, Microsoft, and Google will be the real N-HIN, why PHRs will become EMRs on super smart next gen devices.

Its author is Austin Merritt of softwareadvice.com, a web site that provides advice on selecting EHR software.  I think the strategic reason for Microsoft’s entry into EMR would not be because there are big bucks to be made from a limited number of physicians but because it gives them a foothold into two of the key stakeholders; doctors and patients, one via an EMR and the other through its PHR.  If that is where they intend to stop, they’ve wasted everyone’s time.  I think they have bigger plans, and those plans include having patients walk in to the doctor’s office, both having the same EMR on the same or compatible devices.  The rest of this post is Austin’s.

Microsoft Dynamics is largely present in just about every software market but medical. And they’re missing out big time. The United States healthcare IT market is growing at about 13% per year and is expected to reach $35 billion in 20111. The biggest opportunity for growth in the industry is among ambulatory care physician practices, partly due to the Stimulus Bill requiring the use of electronic health records (EHR) systems by 2015.

You would think Microsoft would be in such a promising industry, but you won’t find a Microsoft EHR available. The primary reason why is that EHRs are highly specialized, and Microsoft’s main products (Dynamics, CRM, and SharePoint) don’t come anywhere near the needs of physician practices. It would be very difficult for Microsoft to build an EHR from scratch and introduce it to the market. So what should Microsoft do to enter the industry? Acquire a current player.

Such an entry into the medical market would mimic the acquisition spree that Microsoft conducted between 2000 and 2002, when it acquired Great PlainsNavision, Damgaard, and several related vendors. These systems were re-branded and offered as Microsoft Dynamics. Before these acquisitions, Microsoft was not present in the enterprise resource planning (ERP) application market. Its only ERP presence was as an infrastructure vendor, licensing SQL Server databases and related platforms to support application rollouts. However, this lack of application presence gave competitors such as Oracle and SAP the opportunity to squeeze Microsoft out of the ERP infrastructure market by pushing Unix, Oracle databases and IBM DB2. By acquiring several applications, Microsoft was able to drive sales of its SQL Server and Windows Servers directly, in addition to the Dynamics applications themselves. This strategy proved effective in giving Microsoft a multi-billion dollar share of the lucrative ERP market.

Setting its sights on the medical market, Microsoft is starting to squeeze its way in with a few smaller acquisitions and developments of its own, mainly Amalga and HealthVault. However, these current medical offerings are on the periphery of the market and do not really target the sweet spot: electronic health records for physician practices. An intelligent acquisition of a large EHR player would provide a key piece of the puzzle for Microsoft’s entry into the medical market.

Acquired by Microsoft in 2006, Amalga provides information connectivity and interoperability to large healthcare networks. It is the primary Microsoft healthcare offering in the industry at this point, although it is not available in the United States. Microsoft may be planning to offer it domestically, as it did with Navision Damgaard, or may be looking to acquire a domestic vendor to complement it. Regardless of Microsoft’s strategy, Amalga still would not address the physician practice EHR market.

On the other end of the spectrum, HealthVault is a patient-managed, centralized health records solution. It is essentially designed to be a reference point for consumers, not a substitute for medical records. If Microsoft were able to introduce an EHR to the market and enable its users to make records accessible to patients, labs, specialists and pharmacies via HealthVault, then they would really be on to something. This synergy with its other products would just be an added bonus to having its own EHR.

So what would Microsoft prioritize as its key acquisition criteria when evaluating EHR targets? They would certainly want target vendors who possess the following:

  1. Large market share and name brand recognition. Microsoft usually likes to be the largest name in the business, so they would definitely want to sell a “big-name” system with which most buyers are already familiar.
  2. A scalable product for small and large practices. Microsoft would need to be able to cover a wide range of medical customers. While its bread and butter is always in the small and mid-size market, they would want scalability into the largest organizations.
  3. A .Net architecture to drag along infrastructure sales. Reinforcing the position of .Net in the medical software marketplace would be important because it would drive further sales of Microsoft infrastructure while squeezing out Unix, Oracle and IBM.
  4. An established, indirect sales channel. Microsoft historically favors selling through partners, including the existing Dynamics dealer network. An EHR vendor with a large dealer network would provide Microsoft an easily transferable sales channel and process.

So which EHR vendor should Microsoft acquire? This is where it starts to get interesting. We decided to examine Microsoft’s ten most logical targets in detail. Two very popular products, GE Healthcare’s Centricity and McKesson’s Practice Partner, did not make the top ten list. While these systems meet many criteria, the parent companies – General Electric and McKesson – are not really acquirable by Microsoft. The remaining ten are outlined below.

MARKET SHARE SCALABLE PRODUCT .NET ARCHITECTURE INDIRECT CHANNEL
NextGen
Greenway
Pulse
Aprima
Allscripts/Misys
eClinicalWorks
Eclipsys
athenaHealth
Epic
Cerner
  • NextGen – One of the “biggest names” in EHRs, NextGen focuses on medium to large enterprises. However, its system is certainly able to scale down to smaller practices. While it is often too expensive for groups with less than ten physicians, it has a strong position in the sweet spot of the market. Its .Net-based system is sold both directly and through a channel network, so NextGen is a good fit for Microsoft.
  • GreenWay – GreenWay has a nice product, but is toward the smaller end of the companies on this list. It sells primarily directly and has some channel partners. PrimeSuite 2008, its EHR and practice management sytem, is .Net-based and is popular among small and mid-sized groups. Microsoft could leverage its resources and Greenway’s technology to become a major force in the industry. Moreover, Greenway doesn’t come with any legacy of old architecture or acquired customers.
  • Pulse – Pulse has quickly climbed its way into the ranks of bigger EHR vendors and will likely stay here for some time. They were one of the first vendors to achieve 2011 CCHIT certification and are receiving a lot of buzz as a result. While the system is scalable and .Net based, Microsoft would likely want to pursue bigger fish for now.
  • Aprima – Aprima (formerly known as iMedica) has focused on its .Net framework and N-tier architecture from the beginning. As a result, its modern platform and interface make it widely received among physicians across a broad range of specialties. While Microsoft would likely focus on larger companies first, Aprima could be a nice additional partner to champion .Net.
  • AllScripts/Misys – A large brand and a publicly-traded company, it is a logical first place to look. After all, the company claims to have 160,000 physicians using its products. However, the 2008 merger between AllScripts and Misys presents the usual integration challenge, which might keep this firm busy for quite a while. Although we think the future of AllScripts/Misys is very promising, Microsoft probably wouldn’t get involved at this point.
  • eClinicalWorks – This system is probably the most ubiquitous of the list, especially among smaller practices. The recent deal to sell eClinicalWorks through WalMart will definitely increase its brand recognition and share of the market. However, the system is built in Java, an open programming language that is the traditional enterprise alternative to Microsoft .Net. Microsoft would most likely rather acquire a pure .Net system or one that is at least close to it, especially with Oracle, IBM and SAP all embracing Java.
  • Eclipsys – Eclipsys acquired MediNotes in 2009 in an attempt to move users to its Peak Practice EHR. While Eclipsys is fairly popular among hospitals, Peak Practice has not achieved similar success among small to mid-size outpatient practices. Existing MediNotes users are not thrilled about being forced to purchase Peak Practice and we’ve seen quite a few seeking a new solution from a new vendor. We think the success of the MediNotes deal is unclear and Microsoft would steer clear for now.
  • Athena – The youngest company on this list, Athena’s product offering is slightly different from the others. Its system is offered via software as a service (SaaS) and is combined with outsourced billing and revenue cycle management services. This offering is indeed unique, but not a suitable target for Microsoft due to its SaaS offering and labor-intensive service component.
  • Epic – This company possesses an interesting niche in the market. It has only 190 clients, but 150,000 physicians using its products. This is due to its focus on only the largest healthcare organizations in the United States. While this focus is great for Epic, it wouldn’t be effective for Microsoft. Epic will never be able to achieve the ubiquity in the small to mid-sized market where Microsoft dominates. It also sells direct, contrary to Microsoft’s traditional indirect sales mode.
  • Cerner – Cerner’s cash cow is Millenium, a product designed primarily for hospitals. PowerWorks, its outpatient EHR, does not possess the market share among physician practices that Millenium enjoys among hospitals. While Cerner is a recognized name, few practices consider PowerWorks. It is also an older system. Cerner would need to improve its PowerWorks offering before becoming a suitable target for Microsoft.

Although NextGen is not currently dominant amongst small practices, Microsoft could bring them downmarket. NextGen is unable to serve these smaller buyers for two reasons: 1) small practices cannot afford an enterprise expenditure; and, 2) NextGen does not want to (and maybe cannot) devote resources to chasing smaller deals. If Microsoft owned NextGen, they could double down on pursuing smaller practices, perhaps through their channel partners. They may even lower prices to buy market share and make up the difference with revenue from services, SQL licenses, and maintenance.

Which EHR do you think Microsoft should acquire?

Paul M. Roemer
Chief Imaginist, Healthcare IT Strategy

1475 Luna Drive, Downingtown, PA 19335
+1 (484) 885-6942

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