Why Apple, Epic and IBM will take over healthcare

The three will emerge as healthcare's ruling triumvirate. Here's why.

Apple and IBM recently announced they were putting aside their 1980s rivalry to come together to develop a new set of business-facing mobile apps for iOS powered by IBM's big data capabilities and enterprise platform expertise.

One of the new partnership's main focuses is healthcare, says IBM's general manager for the public sector Dan Pelino. The healthcare-focused apps that will come out of the partnership will "make patient information mobile, and it will be safe and secure," he says. "It will be enterprise solutions that take advantage of the mobile device [iPhones and iPads] and the security and scale IBM is known for."

The partnership brings together two companies that have been rapidly expanding their presence in the healthcare industry. Beside being "under the covers" of many health IT system implementations, IBM has been working with several healthcare providers to use Watson's natural-language processing capabilities to improve care delivery with some impressive results, and has offered some healthcare app developers access to Watson's application programming interface to expand the use of the technology.And Apple recently announced HealthKit, a consumer-facing mobile health-tracking platform able to integrate with other health apps and monitoring devices to help users more easily monitor their own health.

What has made both companies' forays into healthcare that much more formidable has been their close relationships with Epic. Epic has partnered with Apple before on EHR apps and worked with Apple on HealthKit, paving the way for providers' Epic systems to integrate with the platform and opening up possibilities for remote monitoring and care coordination. IBM, already involved in about 80 percent of Epic implementations, recently tightened its ties to the electronic health record giant when the two announced a joint bid for the Department of Defense's EHR modernization contract (according to an InformationWeek article, a feature of the bid is iOS support).

Mr. Pelino is quick to clarify that Epic is not an official part of the new Apple-IBM partnership, though says the three companies will continue to work together. And together, I think they will emerge as healthcare's new leaders.

Why? All three companies have a history of and reputation for innovation, yes, something of which the healthcare industry is perpetual need. But I think their healthcare dominance will hinge more on Apple, Epic and IBM being seen not necessarily as the most innovative but rather as the safe choice.

An adage has been floating around the business world for years that nobody gets fired for choosing IBM products. I have spoken to several CIOs who say there's a similar saying in the industry about Epic. The software is expensive, but it meets business needs. And as more organizations pick Epic, data exchange needs means other organizations face increasing pressure to pick Epic too. And now, the HealthKit-Epic integration may add additional pressure on providers looking to both connect with consumers and offer more coordinated care.

As for Apple, more than two-thirds of physicians already have iPhones in their pockets, and the iPad is the dominant tablet device among clinicians. Choosing iOS enterprise apps would most likely be the path of least resistance for a hospital or health system.

Mr. Pelino says the IBM-Apple partnership "catches us doing good," as Apple's products continue to dominate the mobile device space and IBM continues to grow its market share in the business IT world. But what it does more than anything is catch both companies' products working.

And that's what healthcare organizations want — solutions that work, and work with what they already have. A recent report from KLAS reveals more than 80 percent of Epic (and Cerner) customers considering acquiring an interactive patient system will choose their respective vendor's product over a best-of-breed solution. This finding reflects a larger trend — faced with mounting challenges and financial pressures, hospitals and health systems will pick what they know will work.

Which is why it's hard to see the rising triumvirate of Epic, Apple and IBM as anything but unstoppable.


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