Is Epic Stifling Health IT Innovation?

Posted on April 30, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In many ways and definitely based on the buzz, Epic is at the top of the hospital EMR market. According to one estimate, about 40 percent of the U.S. population has its medical information stored in an Epic EMR, a stunning number given the level of competition in the hospital EMR space.

The question is, what impact is that having on the EMR marketplace?  According to one piece posted this week by Medical Economics,  Epic may be stifling health IT innovation due to its nearly-unassailable market lead.

As readers probably know, Epic has established an empire built around antiquated technology (MUMPS), which essentially forces any company that hopes to interoperate to bear its MUMPS core in mind. We’re talking the blunted edge here.

Perhaps more importantly, now that Epic has such a dominant market share, if it chooses to keep a closed system in place, customers will only get what innovations are driven internally by Epic.  If hospitals want innovations emerging outside the Epic bubble, they’ll have to consider the staggering costs — in some cases in the hundreds of millions of dollars — of switching outright to another vendor. If that doesn’t stifle innovation I don’t know what does.

This situation hasn’t been lost on healthcare industry leaders, some of whom have begun to balk at Epic’s rise, Medical Economics reports.

As the piece notes, Epic has attracted outspoken critics that question whether Epic’s’ market dominance is bad for the health IT world as a whole. One of those critics is Paul Levy, former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who has taken shots at the EMR giant from his “Not Running A Hospital” blog.

Levy, who Medical Economics cites as one of Epic’s toughest opponents, has been known to compare customers’ relationship with Epic to Stockholm Syndrome, a condition occurring when hostages begin to sympathize and identify with their captors.

All that being said, at the  moment, there’s little critics can do to change Epic’s business practices or development plans. Perhaps the Federal Trade Commission will step in at some point if it appears to staff there that Epic’s market control is anti-competitive.   In the mean time, though, Epic seems to have a lock on the hospital marketplace — and a disproportionate role in shaping the future of EMRs generally.