While approaches differ between the three companies, heavy investment in EMR/EHR and other HIT solutions could signal significant changes ahead for a market currently dominated by only a few major developers

If healthcare big data is truly a disruptive force in healthcare’s transformation, then a big battle looms for control of that data. Some experts say that the companies now dominating the electronic health record (EHR) market will soon face tough competition from the world’s biggest tech companies.

Until recently, most clinical laboratories, anatomic pathology groups, hospitals, and other healthcare providers have depended on EHR systems from just a handful of health information technology (HIT) developers. But tech giants Google, Apple, and Microsoft have been filing hundreds of HIT related patents since 2013 and appear poised to compete on a large scale for a chunk of the EMR/EHR/HIT market, according to coverage in EHR Intelligence of Kalorama Information’sEMR 2018: The Market for Electronic Medical Records” report.

How this will impact medical laboratories and pathology practices remains to be seen. Labs are sure to be influenced by coming events, since clinical laboratory test data represents the largest proportion of an individual patient’s permanent medical record. It’s important to note, though, that while most EHR/HIT developers have been motivated by federal incentives, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) are motivated by consumer demand, which increasingly dictates the direction of health technology development.

Thus, they may be better positioned to compete moving forward, as patients, physicians, and hospitals turn to precision medicine and value-based care for improved outcomes and increased revenues.

“The EMR efforts have moved hospitals from paper to digital records,” Bruce Carlson (above), Publisher of Kalorama Information, told HIT Infrastructure. “The next step is for tech giants to glean the data and improve upon that infrastructure. We’ll be talking about EHR in different ways in the next ten years.” (Photo copyright: Twitter.)

EMR/EHR Market Poised for Disruption

According EHR Intelligence, as of 2017, 97% of all US non-federal acute care hospitals and 84% of US hospitals had adopted an EHR system. Of these hospitals, more than half (50.5%) use products from just two developers—Cerner or Epic. That’s according to Health Data Management’s coverage of the KLAS report “US Hospital EMR Market Share 2017.”

However, recent interest in HIT and EHR systems by major Silicon Valley tech companies could lead to potential disruptions in the current state of the market. According to The New York Times, in the first 11 months of 2017, 10 of the largest US technology companies were involved in healthcare equity deals worth $2.7-billion. This marks a drastic increase over the 2012 figure of $277-million.

Though each company is approaching the market differently, Google, Microsoft, and Apple are all working on projects that could influence how both consumers and healthcare professionals interact with and utilize medical record data.

Of the three, Apple is the most consumer-centric with their Apple Health personal health record (PHR) integration into Apple iOS for iPhones and iPads. Microsoft, however, is working on developing analytics tools and storage solutions aimed at healthcare providers in general. And Google, through its parent company Alphabet, is focusing on data processing and storage.

Amazon also is working on its own HIT project which it calls 1492. While details are scant, HIT Infrastructure reports that the project is focused on interoperability among disparate EHR systems to improve sharing of protected health information (PHI) between providers, patients, and other healthcare providers, such as clinical labs and pathology groups. HIT Infrastructure also reported on rumors of Amazon branching into telemedicine using their Amazon Echo and Alexa platforms.

Security Concerns and Opportunities for Clinical Laboratories

According to Computerworld’s coverage of IDC research, by 2020, 25% of patients are expected to be taking part in ‘bring your own data” healthcare scenarios. Tech-savvy medical laboratories could find opportunities to interact directly with patients and encourage follow-through on test orders or follow-up on routine testing.

However, shifting protected health information to devices carried by consumers is not without risks.

“How do I know the data won’t make its way to some cloud somewhere to be shared, sold, etc.” Jack Gold, Principal Analyst with J. Gold Associates, told Computerworld. “And if I rely on an app to tell me what to do—say, take my meds—and it somehow gets hacked, can it make me sick, or worse?”

These are important questions and developments, which Dark Daily has covered in other recent e-briefings. (See, “Apple Updates Its Mobile Health Apps, While Microsoft Shifts Its Focus to Artificial Intelligence. Both Will Transform Healthcare, But Which Will Impact Clinical Laboratories the Most?” July 25, 2018.)

Nevertheless, with tech giants already developing products for the consumer market and healthcare provider industry, it’s a given consumers will soon gain greater access to their own healthcare information. Whether patients will ultimately embrace it, how they will use it, and how developers will interact with the data, is still undefined. But it’s coming and clinical laboratories should be prepared.

—Jon Stone

Related Information:

Apple to Launch Health Records App with HL7’s FHIR Specifications at 12 Hospitals

How Google, Microsoft, Apple Are Impacting EHR Use in Healthcare

Microsoft, Apple, Google Secure HIT Infrastructure Patents

How Big Tech Is Going after Your Health Care

Amazon Secret Healthcare IT Tech Team Focuses on EHRs, Alexa

Apple’s Health Record API Released to Third-Party Developers; Is It Safe?

Apple, Cerner and Microsoft Are Interested in Buying AthenaHealth: Here’s Why This CEO Says They Won’t

Apple Says iOS Health Records Has over 75 Backers, Uses Open Standards

Report: Health Systems Share Apple Health Records Feedback

Apple Is Officially in the EHR Business. Now What?

Why Apple’s Move on Medical Records Marks a Tectonic Shift

Slideshow Where the Top 8 EMRs Are Deployed

Apple Updates Its Mobile Health Apps, While Microsoft Shifts Its Focus to Artificial Intelligence. Both Will Transform Healthcare, but Which Will Impact Clinical Laboratories the Most?

Apple’s Update of Its Mobile Health App Consolidates Data from Multiple EHRs and Makes It Easier to Push Clinical Laboratory Data to Patients