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What If Doctors Owned Part of Hospital EMRs?

Posted on May 19, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

After this many years of widespread use, you’d think that physicians would have accepted that EMRs are an inevitable part of practicing medicine — and at least sometimes, a useful tool that helps doctors manage their panel of patients more effectively.  But it seems some hospital administrators have concluded that a significant percentage of doctors loathe EMRs.

I draw this conclusion not from casual conversation with physicians, but from a hospital recruiting advertisement quoted in The New York Times.  The advertisement, which was attempting to attract doctors to a facility in Phoenix, closed its glowing description of state-of-the-art equipment and an attractive location with a single provocative line, all in bold: “No E.M.R.s.”

While EMRs are getting long in the tooth these days, they haven’t won over many doctors. As physician Robert Wachter notes in his NYT piece on the subject, a 2013 RAND survey found physicians most unhappy with EMRs, citing “poor usability, time-consuming data entry, needless alerts and poor work flows.”

I think it’s pretty obvious why EMRs continue to stay user-hostile. While doctors are the end users of  EMRs, hospital IT leaders and other CXOs make the final buying decisions. And he (or she) who writes the check makes the rules.

In theory, it’s strongly in hospital management’s interests to force EMR vendors to clean up their usability act.  After all, not only do hospital leaders want their EMRs used effectively, they want the data to be robust enough to be usable for value-based care delivery. But the truth is that hospital leaders are nowhere near demanding enough of EMR vendors. And because they’re the ones writing the checks, doctors get stuck with the ugly results.

But what if there was a way to involve both doctors and hospitals financially, as partners, in buying EMRs?  Not being the world’s greatest finance wizard, I don’t know how a hospital and a group of physicians could structure a deal that would allow them to jointly own the hospital’s EMR system. And I’m aware, though I don’t know how they would be addressed, that there could be significant legal issues to be resolved if the hospital was a not-for-profit entity.

But at least in theory, if doctors were paying for a percentage of the EMR, they’d have a lot more say as to what level of usability they’d demand, what features were most important to them, and what price they’d be willing to pay for the system. In other words, if doctors had skin in the game, it would put a great deal of pressure on vendors to make EMRs doctors actually liked.

Now, I realize that doctors might have no interest in buying into a technology which has let them down again and again. But there’s a chance that more visionary and tech-friendly physicians might grab the chance to have a substantial say in the EMR-buying process. The idea is worth a look.

Erlanger Health System Takes A Chance On $100M Epic Plunge

Posted on May 11, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

The seemingly eternal struggle between EMR giants Cerner and Epic Systems has ended in another win for Epic, which was the final choice of Chattanooga, TN-based Erlanger Health System. The health system’s CEO, Kevin Spiegel, who said that Cerner had been its other finalist, announced last week that Erlanger would spend about $100 million over 10 years for the Epic installation.

Erlanger, a four-facility public hospital system with about 800 total beds, is an academic medical system and serves as a campus of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. The system also partners with UT to operate the UT Erlanger Physicians Group, a 170-member multispecialty practice.

The health system, which fell in financial trouble in 2012, only recently saved itself and positioned itself for the massive Epic investment. It closed out FY 2014 with $618M in total operating revenue and $18M in operating income.

Erlanger’s turnaround is all well and good. But that being said, these numbers suggest that Erlanger is making something of a gamble by agreeing to an approximately $10M a year health IT investment. After all, the health system itself concedes that its return to financial health came in large part due to $20 million in new Medicare and Medicaid funding from CMS, along with new funding from the state’s Public Hospital Supplemental Payment Pool. And politically-obtained funds can disappear with the stroke of a pen.

The risky nature of Erlanger’s investment seems even more apparent when you consider that the system has an aggressive building plan in place, including a new orthopedic center, a $68M expansion of one of its hospitals, a 100,00 square foot children’s & women’s ambulatory center and a new health sciences center. Particularly given that Erlanger just completed its turnaround last year, does it make sense to squeeze in Epic payments alongside of such a large capital investment in infrastructure?

What’s more, the health system has a bond rating to rehabilitate. Faced with financial hardships in 2013, its bond rating was downgraded by Moody’s to a Baa2 and the system’s outlook was rated “negative.” By 2014, Erlanger’s had managed to boost the Moody’s outlook to “stable,” in part due to the influx of state and federal funds obtained by Erlanger execs, but the Baa2 rating on its $148.4 million in bond debt stayed in place.

While I imagine the hospital will realize a return on its Epic spending at some point, it’s hard to see it happening quickly.  In fact, I’d guess that it’ll be years before Erlanger’s Epic install will be mature enough to be evaluated for ROI, given the level of effort it takes to build a mature install.

In the meantime, Erlanger leaders may be left wondering, from time to time at least, whether they really can afford their expensive new EMR.

Did Hospitals Put Off RCM Upgrades for Nothing?

Posted on May 8, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In December of last year, I wrote a piece outlining a study on revenue cycle management systems by research firm Black Book.  The piece noted that despite hospitals’ desperate need to modernize their RCM platforms, such upgrades were being put off over and over again, largely due to the cost of ICD-10 switchover and Meaningful Use compliance.

It’s hard to say whether ICD-10 prep or  MU compliance have been a greater strain on hospital budgets, but it’s clear that ICD-10 preparations have been a major distraction and a major cost.  Even if a hospital’s EMR has included ICD-10 codes in is platforms or upgrades, hospitals have still had to reconfigure some systems, do revenue impact testing with payers, conduct readiness testing with clearinghouses and train with their claims processing staff, and none of it has been cheap. And the longer hospitals wait to pull the trigger, the worse things get. The American Hospital Association recently estimated that delaying the ICD-10 switchover deadline has cost the hospital industry billions of dollars.

Given the cost of the run-up to the new code set — and the fact that most hospitals report being ready to switch over from ICD-9 — the industry has hoped against hope that the deadline wouldn’t be extended again. In fact, a recently-released survey by software firm QauliTest of more than 150 healthcare executives found that 83% said they think ICD-10 will go live as currently anticipated on Oct. 1.

And that’s where politics enters the picture. While hospitals seem raring to go ahead with the transition and skip any further delays to the deadline,  Texas Rep. Ted Poe (R) has a different outcome in mind.  Perhaps pushed by physicians’ lobbying groups, which still oppose the switch as being too burdensome and costly to handle, Poe has introduced a bill which would actually prohibit HHS from adopting ICD-10 as an ICD-9 replacement.

It’s hard to tell whether the bill will even make it out of the House, as it currently has only six co-sponsors, each fellow Republicans to Poe.  But if it did, hospitals would have plenty to gripe about.

As we’ve pointed out here, one of the major sacrifices hospitals have had to make due to outside forces is to postpone RCM system investment, a lapse which has doubtless cost hospitals plenty due to lost money due to claims processing problems. The longer the need to put off RCM switchovers or improvements lasts, the greater the chance that it hospitals will lose too much to afford on claims old systems can’t handle.

Bottom line, I’d argue that another ICD-10 delay or cancellation of the entire transition would be terribly unfair to hospitals.  If CMS needs to help doctors through the process or even help them pay for it, so be it. Hospitals deserve to be freed to focus on their other IT problems, not wait with bated breath for yet another ICD-10 delay.

GE Phasing Out Centricity Enterprise, To Some Surprise

Posted on April 22, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Conceding that its competitors have the upper hand, GE is phasing out its Centricity Enterprise product, informing the world in a #HIMSS15 announcement which has gotten little play from our tech media colleagues.  As we’ve argued before, HIMSS is not only a great time to announce big plays, it’s also a great time to bury unpleasant news, and GE seems to have succeeded.

Not surprisingly, employees saw things coming long ago. More than a year ago, for example, a 10-year-plus employee of GE Healthcare called the vendor out on what they saw as low-wattage efforts on company rating site Glassdoor.com. The ex-employee cited a “lack of resources to deliver a good EHR product, [causing] a strong customer base to choose other EHR vendors.”

It’s little wonder that GE is backing out of Centricity Enterprise, which according to a report in MedCity News generated only 5 percent of its EMR revenue, according to Jon Zimmerman, general manager of clinical business solutions. “Is it in the best interest of our customers, shareholders and employees to (be) in a market where competitors are clearly ahead, or should we recognize the situation and go to where the market is going?” Zimmerman told MedCity.

But the fact is, Zimmerman’s comments are somewhat disingenuous. At HIMSS, the company admitted that it had begun the process of dumping Centricity Enterprise three years ago, though it’s not clear how long ago it began to let customers know about its plans. For example, I doubt that Continuum Health Partners CIO Mark Moroses, who as of summer 2013 was moving his organization to the Centricity enterprise EMR, expected to have it phased out less than two years later.

It’s worth wondering why a player with GE’s resources seemingly couldn’t hack the enterprise market. But the problem isn’t new. As far back  as 2011, GE was forced to admit that some of its ambulatory and enterprise customers wouldn’t be able to achieve Meaningful Use with their products. That was probably the beginning of the end for the Enterprise product, which ranked either fifth or sixth in the market recently depending on who you asked. But with Epic alone controlling 15% to 20% of the enterprise EMR market of late, and Cerner hot on its heels, giving up probably was a reasonable response.

The real question is what comes next. If Glassdoor.com posters are any indication, GE Healthcare is prone to frequent strategic changes as management shifts, so who knows what the future holds for its ambulatory Centricity EMR?

At the moment,  it seems that GE is firmly behind its ambulatory product. And that makes sense. After all, physicians are decommissioning their existing EMRs at a frantic rate, and are eager to find substitutes, and that gives GE plenty of sales opportunities. With 70% of physicians unhappy with their EMR, according to a study announced in February of last year, it should be easy pickins.

But given the way GE may have fumbled the ball on the enterprise side, I’d want some proof that leaders there had a long-term commitment to ambulatory care. Practices have a hard enough time finding EMRs that work for them; having to switch for reasons that have nothing to do with them makes no sense.

The Overdose – When EHRs Go Wrong

Posted on March 30, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

We’re getting more and more stories coming out about the impact for bad that an EHR can have in medicine. Most of them have been anecdotal stories like The Old Man and the Doctor Fable and Please Choose One. However, today I came across one that talked about an overdose due to an error in the use of EHR. Here’s a summary of the discovery:

Levitt’s supervising nurse was stumped, too, so they summoned the chief resident in pediatrics, who was on call that night. When the physician arrived in the room, he spoke to and examined the patient, who was anxious, mildly confused, and still complaining of being “numb all over.”

At first, he was perplexed. But then he noticed something that stopped him cold. Six hours earlier, Levitt had given the patient not one Septra pill—a tried-and-true antibiotic used principally for urinary and skin infections — but 38½ of them.

Levitt recalls that moment as the worst of her life. “Wait, look at this Septra dose,” the resident said to her. “This is a huge dose. Oh my God, did you give this dose?”

“Oh my God,” she said. “I did.”

If you read the whole article linked above, you’ll discover that the issue happened when entering the dosage for a drug into the Epic EHR system at UCSF. I’m not here to point fingers since every case is unique and you could argue forever about whether it’s the software’s responsibility to do something or whether the person using the software is responsible for understanding how the software works. I think that’s a discussion that goes nowhere since the right answer is that both can do better.

These types of stories are heartbreaking. They even cause some to question whether we should be going electronic at all. I’m reminded of a time I was considering working at a company that did expert witness testimony for cars. One of their hypothesis was that the computers that are now found in cars will usually save people’s lives. However, in a few cases they’re going to do something wrong and someone is going to lose their life. I think that’s where we’re at with EHR software. It’s not perfect and maybe never will be, but does it save more lives than it kills?

That’s a tough question that some people don’t want to face, but we’re going to face it whether we acknowledge the question or not. Personally, I think the answer to that question is that we do save more lives with an EHR than we damage. In the case above, there were still a lot of humans involved that could have verified and corrected the mistake with the EHR. They didn’t, but they could have done so and likely do with hundreds of other mistakes that occur every day. This human touch is a great counterbalance to the world of technology.

If we expanded the discussion beyond lost lives, it would be a much more challenging and complex discussion to know if EHR makes an organization more or less productive. I believe in the short term, that discussion is up for debate. However, in the long term I’m long on the benefits of EHR when it comes to productivity.

None of this should excuse us from the opportunity to learn important lessons from the story above. We need to be careful about over reliance on data in the EHR (similar to over reliance on a paper chart). We need to make our EHR smarter so that they can warn us of potential problems like the ones above. We need EHR vendors to not let known EHR problems remain unfixed. We need a solid testing plan to avoid as many of these situations as possible from ever happening in the first place.

There’s a lot of work to do still to improve EHR. This story is a tragic one which should remind us all of the important work we’re doing and why we need to work really hard to improve it now.

RNs are Choosing Where to Work Based on Hospital EHR

Posted on February 27, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I came across this tweet and it made me stop and realize how important the selection and more important the implementation of your EHR will be for your organization. In many areas there’s already a nurse shortage, so it would become even more of an issue if your hospital comes to be known as the hospital with the cumbersome EHR.

Here’s some insight into the survey results from the article linked above:

79% of job seeking registered nurses reported that the reputation of the hospital’s EHR system is a top three consideration in their choice of where they will work. Nurses in the 22 largest metropolitan statistical areas are most satisfied with the usability of Cerner, McKesson, NextGen and Epic Systems. Those EHRs receiving the lowest satisfaction scores by nurses include Meditech, Allscripts, eClinicalWorks and HCare.

The article did also quote someone as saying that a well done EHR implementation can be a recruiting benefit. So, like most things it’s a double edge sword. A great EHR can be a benefit to you when recruiting nurses to your organization, but a poorly done, complex EHR could drive nurses away.

I’m pretty sure this side affect wasn’t discussed when evaluating how to implement the EHR and what kind of resources to commit to ensuring a successful and well done EHR implementation. They’re paying the price now.

Department of Defense (DOD) and Open Source EHR

Posted on February 25, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I was intrigued by a report by the Center for New American Security that was covered in this article on HealthcareDive. In the report, they make a good case for why the Department of Defense (DOD) should select an open source EHR solution as opposed to a commercial solution. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“I think the commercial systems are very good at what they do,” Ondra said. However, “they are not ideally designed for efficiency and enhancement of care delivery, and I think the DOD can do better with an open source system both in the near-term, and more importantly in the long-term, because of the type of innovation and creativity that can more quickly come into these systems.”

Reports like this make a pretty good case for open source. Plus, I love that it also pointed out that commercial EHR vendors were built on the back of the fee for service model which doesn’t matter to the DOD. It was also interesting to think about the DOD’s selection of an open source EHR system as an investment in other hospitals since the money they spend on an open source EHR could help to catalyze the ongoing development of a free open source EHR solution.

While these arguments make a lot of sense, it seems that the DOD has decided not to go with an open source EHR solution and instead is opting for a commercial alternative. In this article (Thanks Paul) the DOD has narrowed the list of contenders for the $11 Billion DOD EHR contract (DHMSM) to just: CSC/HP/Allscripts, Leidos/Accenture/Cerner, and IBM/Epic who “fall within the competitive range.” They reported that PwC/Google/GDIT/DSS/Medsphere and Intersystems did not fall within the competitive range.

I’ll be interested to hear Medsphere’s take on this since every report I’ve ever read has Medsphere and their open source Vista solution as much less expensive than the commercial alternatives (Epic, Cerner, Eclipsys). So, I can’t imagine that the Medsphere bid was so much more than the others. Unless the consultants are charging through the nose for it. Or maybe the open source Vista option wasn’t “in the competitive range” because it was too cheap. Wouldn’t that be hilarious to consider. Hopefully the government isn’t that stupid, but…

I don’t claim to have any clue on how these $11 billion government contract bids work. I’m just a casual observer from the sideline. It seems like 3 companies remain in the ring. I guess the Google juice wasn’t enough for the PwC/Medsphere bid.

Cerner Offers Voluntary Separation Packages

Posted on February 24, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The Kansas City Star is reporting that Cerner is offering employers whose combination of years of service and age total 65 have been offered voluntary separation packages. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Cerner spokesman Dan Smith said the one-time offer reflects the “deep bench of complementary talent” because of the Siemens acquisition and doesn’t affect Cerner’s continued hiring or its future growth plans.

“This is a truly voluntary program for all of our U.S. associates,” Smith said. “There is no pre-determined outcome and no number to hit. It provides eligible associates who might be ready to make a change the chance to decide to stay or pursue a different option and get benefits not normally associated with voluntary departures.”

With any large acquisition like the one Cerner did of Siemens, there has to be a lot of duplicate functions and they have to look at how to trim back the number of employees. So, this shouldn’t come as any surprise. In fact, I think the fact that they’re currently doing a voluntary separation package might mean that they aren’t looking to slim down the company as much as you’d think. Some investors might think that’s a bad plan since every company the size or Cerner or Siemens (let alone the combined company) could likely fire 10% of the workforce and improve their company’s profitability. Although, it could also be a sign of how much growth Cerner is experiencing.

Personally, I’ll be watching to see if they announce some other layoffs. It will be a surprise to me if they don’t announce some involuntary layoffs. Either way, this is a normal part of an acquisition like this.

It does make me wonder how many of these older professionals that accept the voluntary separation packages will end up at the wide variety of EHR consulting companies out there. You have to think that would be a pretty sweet deal for them.

Four Things You Should Know About Deloitte’s “Evergreen” EHR Program

Posted on February 20, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Recently, consulting giant Deloitte announced a new program, named “Evergreen,” designed to cut down the cost of implementing and operating hospital EHRs. Unfortunately, much of the Evergreen coverage in the health IT trade press was vague or downright wrong, as it suggested that Deloitte was actually going into the EHR business itself. The key point Deloitte sought to make — that it could implement and operate EHRs for 20% to 30% less than hospitals — did come across, but the rest was a bit jumbled.

Having spoken to Mitch Morris, global healthcare leader for Deloitte Consulting LLP, I can clarify much of what was confusing about the Evergreen announcement and subsequent coverage.  Here’s some key points I took away from my chat with Morris:

  • Evergreen is a suite of services, not a product:  Though some HIT editors seem to have been confused by this, Evergreen isn’t an EHR offering itself.  It’s a set of EHR implementation and operation services provided by Deloitte Consultants. Evergreen also includes a financing scheme allowing hospitals and health systems to obtain a new EHR by making a series of equal payments to Deloitte over five to seven years. (“It’s like leasing a car,” Morris noted.) This allows hospitals to get into the EHR without making an enormous upfront capital investment over the first 18 months.
  • Evergreen is only offered in tandem with an Epic purchase:  The Evergreen program arose from what Deloitte learned after doing a great deal of work with Epic EHRs, including the famous multi-billion install at Kaiser Permanente and an extensive rollout for large hospital system Catholic Health Initiatives. So at the outset, the program is only available to hospitals that want to go with Epic.  Deloitte is considering other EHR vendors for Evergreen partnership but has made no decisions as to which it might add to the program.
  • Both onshore and offshore services are available through Evergreen:  One might assume that Deloitte is offering lower implementation and operation costs by offshoring all of the work.  Not so, Morris says. While Deloitte does offer services based in India and Ireland, it also taps U.S. operations as needed. Clients can go with offshore labor, onshore labor or a mix of services drawing on both.
  • This is a new application services management offering for Deloitte:  While the consulting giant has been managing Oracle and SAP installations for clients for some time, managing EHR platforms is a new part of its business, Morris notes.

According to Morris, Deloitte expects Evergreen customers to include not only health systems and hospitals that want to switch EHRs system-wide, but also those which have done some acquisitions and want to put all of their facilities on the same platform. “It’s expensive for a health system to maintain two or three brands, but they often can’t afford the upfront capital costs of putting every hospital on the same EHR,” he said. “We smooth out the costs so they can just make a payment every month.”

This could certainly be a big score for Epic, which is likely to scoop up more of the EHR-switching systems if Deloitte helps the systems cope with the costs. And Deloitte is likely to get many takers. Let’s see, though, whether it can actually follow through on the savings it promises. That could change the EHR game as we know it.

The Epic App Store (Epic App Exchange) Is Coming

Posted on February 19, 2015 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The Wisconsin State Journal is reporting that Epic is working on the Epic App Store which will be called the Epic App Exchange. I guess the news was mentioned by Mark Bakken, co-founder and former chief executive of Nordic Consulting, at a Wisconsin Innovation Network event and confirmed by Shawn Kiesau, Epic spokesman. Here’s a quote from the article:

Bakken said the app store will launch in a few weeks and it will “open the floodgates” for all sorts of companies to develop and market their apps, especially those in the Madison area populated by former Epic employees.

“We think Epic is big now? This will cement their long-term legacy. It’s exactly the right thing to do,” Bakken said later in an interview.

Bakken has obviously drunk the Epic Kool Aid having created a very large Epic consulting firm in Madison and he’s now creating an investment fund called HealthX Ventures that’s focused on healthcare IT startups with many of them created by former Epic employees. He is right that an Epic app store with a robust API could be an awesome opportunity for Epic and entrepreneurs.

What’s not clear to me from this initial news is how open the Epic app store will really be. If it’s like their previous Epic API, it wasn’t much to write about. It didn’t allow an app to integrate deeply with the Epic system. Will we once again be disappointed by the Epic App Store, or will they start to really open up Epic to entrepreneurs who want to build applications on top of their systems?

My gut tells me that the former is more likely. This actually puts people like Bakken with deep relationships with Epic at a real advantage. My bet is that Epic will only work with companies and organizations that they trust and so these already existing relationships could become even more valuable. While it’s true that Epic should be careful with how they work with external companies that want to leverage the new Epic app store, there are ways they can protect their customers and patient data while still opening up their application to entrepreneurs of every kind. We’ll see if I’m wrong about this. Maybe they will really open things up, but I’m skeptical that they’ll be able to overcome their fear (unfounded as it may be).

In the article linked above, Bakken is quoted as saying that “he expects the first apps to come from Epic’s customer.” This would confirm my prediction above that Epic will be afraid to really open up its platform to entrepreneurs and instead will focus the app store on their closed customer ecosystem. Even the name “Epic App Exchange” hints at this being the case. They want their customers to exchange apps. They aren’t looking to create a true app store where entrepreneurs can innovate on top of Epic’s base.

Of course, since Epic doesn’t like to work with the media very much, it’s hard to know what the Epic App Store will really look like when it’s launched. This is a step in the right direction for Epic. I just still don’t think Epic understands the opportunity that they have to really improve healthcare and solidify themselves as the go to leader in healthcare IT. I’ll continue to hope I’m wrong and Epic will blow us away with the official announcement and details of a really open app store and API.