Another Giant In Play: 3M Looking At “Strategic Alternatives” For HIS Unit

Posted on September 14, 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.

Given the staggering number of EMR launches that took place in the wake of the Meaningful Use kickoff, mergers, sell-offs and business failures were quite predictable. Despite the feds’ doling out $30B in incentive dollars, even that wasn’t enough to keep hundreds of EMR entrants afloat.

It hasn’t been as clear what would happen to large vendors with HIT interests, given that they had enough capital to ride more than one wave of provider adoption. The field has just begun to shake out, with only a small handful of major transactions taking place. Recent plays by large tech players include Cerner’s $1.3B acquisition of Siemens Health Services, which included the Soarian EMR. There’s also ADP’s sale of EMR solution AdvancedMD to Marlin Equity Partners after previously acquiring e-MDs. Not to mention Greenway and Vitera Healthcare Solutions joining forces and Pri-Med acquiring Amazing Charts.

Another major move was announced this April at HIMSS 15, when GE Healthcare announced that it was phasing out its Centricity Enterprise product. According to news reports, the Enterprise product only generated 5% of the Healthcare division’s EMR revenue. I could keep going, but you get the point.

Now, 3M has joined the fray, announcing this week that it was “exploring strategic alternatives” for its HIS business, including spinning off or selling the unit.  (It’s also considering keeping its HIS business on board and investing in its future.)  The company, which has signed Goldman, Sachs & Co. as strategic advisor and investment banker, says that it will probably announce what direction it will head in by the end of the first quarter of next year.

On the surface, 3M Health Information Systems looks like a very solid business. The HIS unit, which is focused on computer-assisted coding, clinical documentation improvement, performance monitoring, quality outcomes reporting and terminology management, reportedly works with more than 5,000 hospitals, plus government and commercial payers. According to 3M, the HIS business generated trailing 12-month revenues of about $730M, and has sustained 10%+ compounded annual growth for 10 years.

That being said, it’s hard to say what the fallout from the ICD-10 switchover will be, and it’s not unreasonable for 3M to consider whether it wants to compete in the post-switchover world. After all, while the HIS unit seems to be quite healthy, it’s certainly faces stiff competition from several directions, including EMRs with integrated billing and coding technology. Also, the company may be saddled with outdated legacy infrastructure, which makes it hard to keep up in this new era of revenue cycle management.

By the end of the first quarter of 2016, 3M will have had a chance to see how its customers are faring post-ICD-10, and how its customers needs are shifting. 3M will also find out whether other HIS players with (presumably) newer technology in place are interested in doing a rollup with its business.

Truthfully, if 3M doesn’t think it can benefit from investing in the HIS unit, I’m not sure who else would benefit from doing so. In fact, I’d argue that 3M is undermining its chances at a deal by waffling over whether it plans to invest or divest; as I see it, this implies that the HIS unit will be on life support without a major cash infusion, which is not something I’d find attractive as an investor.  If nothing else I’d want to buy the unit at a firesale price! But I guess we’ll have to wait until March 2016 to see what happens.