Should You Buy Pop Health Tools And EMRs From One Vendor?

Posted on October 17, 2016 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.

According to a new story appearing in HealthITAnalytics, EMR vendors are increasingly moving into the population health management space. In fact, according to an IDC Research market report featured in the story, the lines between the EMR and population health management marketplaces are beginning to blur, with vendors offering products tackling both documentation and patient management.

While this is not news to anyone who’s attended a major industry tradeshow in the last few years, the extent of the transition might be. Apparently, half of the top population health management vendors featured by IDC – including athenahealth, eClinicalWorks and Allscripts — also offer EMR platforms. (According to HealthITAnalytics, other pop health vendors identified as leaders by IDC include Wellcentive, Medecision, Optum and IBM Phytel.)

Cynthia Burghard, Research Director with IDC Health Insights, says that providers want to integrate patient management and big data analytics to support their ACO deals and meet tregulatory requirements. In an IDC press release, she notes that providers need to manage both clinical and financial outcomes to survive under value-based reimbursement.

While all of this makes sense to me on paper, I’d like to raise a question here. Does buying both your EMR and your pop health tool from the same vendor have a meaningful downside? I’d argue that it might.

Yes, from a high level, buying an EMR and population health management engine from the same vendor is a good idea. In theory, the two are likely to work together more effectively than two platforms from two separate vendors, as there’s unlikely to be any conflict between the purposes of the EMR and the purposes of the population health tool.

But in practice, it’s worth bearing in mind that we haven’t yet evolved a standard feature set or business model for managing patients at the population level (though you might be interested in some of these emerging best practices). So this is a far bigger risk than buying, for example, a practice management tool and an EMR from the same vendor — after all, practice management software has been around long enough that it’s fairly standardized.

On the other hand, if you buy a population health tool and an EMR from, say, Allscripts, you’re buying not only technology but their view of how population health management should be done. And the two platforms are somewhat, for lack of a better word, inbred if they try to cover your entire scope of patient management. Whatever blind spots the EMR may have, the pop health management platform may have as well.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that while it makes great business sense for the vendors to offer both EMR and pop health products, it’s not necessarily in the provider’s interests to pile both of those products onto their infrastructure. At this stage, I’d argue, it’s worth preserving your flexibility, even if you spend more or have to work harder to develop the business logic you need on the population health side.

But I’m willing to change my mind. Readers, what do you think?