The Zombie EMRs

The recent statistics suggest that there are nearly 500 EMR companies competing in the market today. Yes, that means 500 unique companies with different organizational cultures, goals and ambitions. While in most cases this represents consumer buying power, in the world of EMR it translates into consumer confusion.

However, it is not like all available EMR products are identical as there are many variations in usability, features and cost. EMR solutions today are available as a service or licensed software. While some target specific specialties, others target broader client-base through end user customization. However this alone does not lift the physician’s plight of choosing the right fit.

Physicians acquire an EMR for the long haul and don’t spend thousands of dollars just to experience office automation. Amongst usability requirements and functionality, stability of the vendor is extremely important. A lot of companies have rescinded their products due to the financial strain of competing in such a dynamic industry. GE Centricity Advance and Epocrates EHR are amongst the more established products to be discontinued.

Another issue with industry shakeout is company consolidation. A lot of EMR companies are being swallowed up by larger, financially stable vendors. Last year McKesson acquired an insurance software supplier – Portico Systems, while Allscripts took over Eclipsys – a hospital technology company. These and many other large scale mergers have only affirmed the unstable EMR industrial age.

This surge in healthcare IT business is akin to the excitement brought on by IT businesses in the 90’s and we all know how that went. There are countless new entrants in the business offering new business models, including per patient charge and even free of cost usage. The question here is, is it prudent for physicians to implement and rely on new entrants?

“Of course you would want to know which EMR product will still be here, let’s say in 10 years time.” says an EMR company executive. Joseph Schneider, the medical director of clinical informatics at the Baylor Health Care System also brings forth a similar issue “There is a belief among many of us that somewhere in the 5- to 10-year range, many of the current products will become, in essence, obsolete,”.

An interesting factoid about EMR adoption and retention, relates to private held and public companies. In a research conducted by an independent surveyor suggested that the top rated EMR companies were actually privately held. “A public company facing financial uncertainty is likely to survive longer. They would make sure that their accounting statements represent a future, even if in actuality they might be going under.” suggests the financial manager of a privately owned EMR company. Apart from creditors, the financial instability of the organization also influences the product itself. Cash flow constrains have put large well known organizations into liquidation and if a company is supposed to fail, it is better for the consumers and creditors that it does so earlier, rather than later.

“I call them zombie electronic record companies,” says David J. Brailer health information technology coordinator for the George W. Bush Administration. “They have a product. They have money on their balance sheet. They have a few customers. And they have no future.” Zombie companies earn just enough to pay their debts and keep operational, but they seldom innovate or expand.

However the purpose here is not to defame publicly held EMR companies, as some are making their mark in the health IT sector; but to establish the importance of choosing a financially sound vendor’s product, which is not only a good fit for your practice needs but is also likely to remain stable in the future.