Why athenahealth might buy Epocrates

By Brian Dolan
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epocratesAlmost three months ago Epocrates announced that it was pulling back on it long-awaited mobile-focused EHR offering for small physician practices to focus on its core offerings, mobile medical apps for physicians. Since the EHR initiative was shutdown Epocrates has been fairly quiet.

Last week athenahealth CEO and co-founder Jonathan Bush brought up Epocrates during the Q&A period that followed his keynote at the Health 2.0 Spring Fling event here in Boston. Much of the focus of the day was on partnerships between digital health companies, including the acquisition of iTriage by Aetna and the close relationship Medhelp and GE share.

An audience member asked Bush what athenahealth is looking for in a partner.

Bush answered the question in three parts and used two other companies athenahealth has bought over the years to illustrate his points. It sure seemed like "partner" was code for "acquisition target". (As we noted last week, another athenahealth executive on-stage made an off-hand comment about wishing he had beaten Aetna to the punch and acquired iTriage first.)

Bush said that athenahealth aims to "help doctors make more money by doing the right thing." So his company is looking for "partners" that can fill in their "product capability roadmap" and that also might include companies that focus exclusively on something that athenahealth is doing but not doing "amazingly". Bush said companies with "capabilities" that they don't have are also attractive partners.

"The last thing we look for is what I would call original and relevant access to people we want to access," Bush said. "Let me give you an example. Epocrates has a pretty lean business model, but there are hundreds of thousands of doctors who just love to do this gesture on this app before they write a new or unfamiliar prescription. So, we may not want their product. We may not want their capability -- I don't know -- but we sure would like to be in front of 200,000 doctors in some way besides, you know, knocking on doors and asking 'Do you want to go to Four Seasons together?' and pretending we're doing something educational with some powerpoint slides."

Bush described Epocrates' relationship with physicians as a "more relevant, content-rich approach" that could help doctors better absorb what athenahealth stands for.

What do you think: Is an athenahealth-Epocrates deal in the works?

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NASA astronaut Scott Kelly checks out the Microsoft HoloLens aboard a space station on February 20, 2016. The device is part of NASA's project Sidekick, which is exploring the use of augmented reality to reduce crew training requirements and increase the efficiency with which astronauts can work in space. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)