Cerner, Accenture, and Leidos Won the DoD’s US$9 Billion EHR Deal: Do You Know Who Lost It? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On August 4, 2015

While the healthcare industry is reeling over the massive size of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) US$9 billion EHR contract just awarded to Cerner, Leidos, and Accenture, less attention is being paid to the fact that this team won the deal over the hot favourite joint bid of Epic Systems and IBM. Those who know the EHR landscape know there is scant anything that Epic loses (of course, the same used to be said about IBM, and that is where irony can probably find solace). Hence, the focus of this blog is on the fact that the invincible Epic Systems lost the mother of all deals in the EHR space.

Why are we hung up on Epic Systems? For the uninitiated, here is some context:

  • Predominant market leader: With over 40 percent market share, Epic has precipitated a large ecosystem of providers that are on its EHR platform. Epic has intelligently used its dominant market position to work with its customers in defining the roadmap for the evolution of EMR systems, and to make its competitors react to the steps it is taking to innovate across various care practices. Epic has focused primarily on large hospital systems, with minimal attention on the mid- to low-sized segment of the market. With its hold on the market, one is led to believe that Epic chooses its clients, rather than the other way around

  • Highly relationship-driven: Clients have traditionally loved Epic for being proactive in evolving its products, responding to suggestions, and quickly fixing issues. This is what set it apart from the biggies, such as Allscripts and Cerner, in its initial days. Epic has strong consultative sales teams that work closely with administrators, CMOs, and physicians. For large pursuits, it deploys dedicated product customization teams that can deliver POCs, manage change, and implement Epic in record time with partners. And most of Epic’s key product people, who can actually understand and address issues, are just a phone call away.

What could be going wrong with Epic Systems?

  • The “Epic” standard EMR? In an era where healthcare is actively pursuing consumer-focused and highly flexible technological innovation, Epic is facing flak – outside of its existing customer base – because of its highly standardized and rigid architecture. Key areas of question include lack of interoperability, lack of efficient APIs for consumer/end-user application development, and foreseen inability to innovate in a digital world due to its MUMPS-based legacy platform. This is what came out starkly when you read between the lines of Frank Kendall, Under Secretary, Department of Defense’s statement: “Market share was not a consideration, we wanted minimum modifications.”

  • High upfront capital investment: The upfront cost of Epic adoption is increasingly being mentioned as one of the hindrances. Cost is a major factor, and EMR implementations are hospitals’ biggest IT spend and budget areas. More importantly, some of the highly cited large EHR implementations (such as the US$700 million Duke University and Boston Partners deal) create an impression of a highly rigid commercials image for Epic. The case on cost versus benefit of having EHR has not been settled yet. Epic’s high premium positioning put it in a tight corner, despite the US$35 billion subsidies riding the EMR industry, and the general customer preference for Epic. The irony here is that the US$9 billion size of the deal is the reason Epic was such a natural choice for this DoD deal, but it probably lost it because the government needed a more flexible arrangement

  • Declining quality of services: Epic is facing the classical quality versus quantity challenge when it comes to managing its growing list of clients. The increasing shortfall in expert support staff is impacting its ability to maintain and support its products across many new and old clients. In the last 18-24 months, an increasing number of client executives have raised flags about outstanding and unresolved issues

  • Training has become a major area of concern, as more and more hospital systems are complaining of lost revenues due to their staffs’ below par or behind the curve Epic readiness. Epic’s inability to provide efficient training modules, and its tendency to keep things close to its chest, is driving wariness among new clients

  • Vendor-neutral storage: Given dependency concerns, customers are increasingly demanding vendors be aligned to some sort of vendor-neutral storage or archiving architecture. This is likely to lead to more thought leadership on vendor-neutral technologies, which will be directed at Epic’s predominant control regime.

There may be other commercial reasons for this massive DoD EHR deal not going Epic’s way. However, organizations already had a strong sense of circumspection while evaluating Epic’s EHR in terms of interoperability, next generation technology, digital enablement, and control. While before these reasons were less salient because of Epic’s trailblazing success, this lost deal will spur prospects to question them with a far more discerning eye.

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