As everyone knows, Epic has attained a near-unbeatable place in the race for U.S. hospital market share. By one important criterion, Meaningful Use attestations, Epic has the lead hands down, with about 186,000 attestations as of March 2015 compared with 120,331 attestations on Cerner systems.
That being said, Cerner is hardly an insignificant force in the hospital EMR marketplace. It’s a multibillion-dollar powerhouse which still holds a strong #2 position and, if a casual survey of Web and social media commentary is to be believed, has done far less to alienate its customers with high-handed tactics. And while Cerner systems are far from cheap, you don’t regularly see headlines citing a Cerner investment as pivotal in a hospital’s credit rating taking a pratfall. Also, Cerner has the most contracts with MU-eligible hospitals, holding contracts with about 20% of them.
Nonetheless, there’s an event looming which could tip the scales substantially further in Epic’s direction. As many readers know, Epic is part of a team competing for the Department of Defense’s $11B Healthcare Management Systems Modernization contract (Word on the street is that we could hear the winner of the DoD EHR bid this week). I’d argue that if Epic wins this deal, it might have the leverage to push Cerner’s head under water once and for all. Cerner, too, is fighting for the deal, but if it wins that probably won’t be enough to close the gap with Epic, as it’s harder to play catch up than to zoom ahead in a space you already control.
Now my colleague John argues that winning the DoD contract might actually be bad for Epic. As he sees it, losing the DoD deal wouldn’t do much damage to its reputation, as most hospital leaders would understand that military healthcare bears little resemblance to commercial healthcare delivery. In fact, he contends that if Epic wins the contract, it could be bad for its customers, as the Verona, Wisc.-based giant may be forced to divert significant resources away from hospital projects. His reasoning makes sense.
But losing the DoD contract would almost certainly have a negative impact on Cerner. While Epic might not suffer much of an image loss if it loses the contest, Cerner might. After all, it doesn’t have quite the marquee list of customers that Epic does (such as the Cleveland Clinic, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo Clinic and the Johns Hopkins Hospital). And if Cerner’s rep suffers, look out. As a surgeon writing for investor site Seeking Alpha notes, the comparatively low cost of switching TO Cerner can just as easily be used as a reason to switch AWAY FROM Cerner.
What’s more, while Cerner’s acquisition of Siemens’ health IT business — adding the Soarian product to its stable — is likely to help the company differentiate itself further going forward, but that’s going to take a while. If Cerner loses the DoD bid, the financial and PR hit could dampen the impact of the acquisition.
Net-net, I doubt that Cerner is going to lie down and play dead under any circumstances, nor should it. Epic may have a substantial advantage but there’s certainly room for Cerner to keep trucking. Still, if Cerner loses the DoD bid it could have a big impact on its business. Now is the time for Cerner to reassure current and potential customers that it’s not planning to scale back if Epic wins.