Interview: Epocrates CTO, CMO talk EHRs

By Brian Dolan
07:15 am
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Epocrates CMO Geoffrey Rutledge

Epocrates CMO Geoffrey Rutledge

Earlier this week, we noted Epocrates' EHR announcement from the HIMSS event in Atlanta, GA. MobiHealthNews sat down with Epocrates' Geoff Rutledge, Chief Medical Officer and EVP of Product Development as well as Epocrates' Bob Quinn, Chief Technical Officer and SVP of Engineering to learn more about the EHR offering set to launch this fall.

As you might expect, Epocrates EHR offering will feature a tighter integration with its classic drug reference application than any other EHR on the market. Other EHR vendors are able to "integrate" Epocrates Drug Reference only by linking out to the app's database. Another key distinction: The Epocrates EHR is specifically targeting the solo practitioner and the small physician groups, which have different needs from the larger enterprise care facilities that so many EHR providers are pursuing. Epocrates has also teamed up with a "very well known" but still undisclosed practice manager partner, whose software will be integrated into the Epocrates EHR for calendaring, scheduling, appointments, billing and more.

Implementation of this system is much easier -- all credentials and authentications are done online, the install only takes place on the user's iPhone since the desktop version is web based. It's "self sign-up" and "self-run," according to the company, which is means it might take a bite out of many EHR consultants' businesses. The EHR will carry a monthly subscription rate but Epocrates has yet to disclose a price beyond "it will be affordable."

Epocrates CTO Bob Quinn

Epocrates CTO Bob Quinn

"Our core strength and expertise is in mobile applications at the point of care," Geoff Rutledge, Chief Medical Officer and EVP of Product Development, Epocrates told MobiHealthNews during an interview at HIMSS. "We understand how physicians think and how they work, so it was only natural for us to build an electronic health record (EHR) that includes a mobile version. That has been missing from existing EHR offerings in the market: A fully functioning mobile EHR app that works both when connected and disconnected. It's not enough to just have a mobile EHR, of course, and it is also a fully featured, web-enabled desktop application, too."

The mobile and desktop versions may have the same functionalities, but the different form factors will likely lead to certain applications being favored on each:

"There is a functional parity between our mobile and web interface," Bob Quinn, Chief Technical Officer and SVP of Engineering, Epocrates said. "The information will be delivered differently and the iPhone version will be used for some use cases more often than the desktop version and vice versa. These two platforms are complementary, so we are not necessarily 'leading' with mobile."

Unlike some mobile "portals" to EHR systems, Epocrates offering is a native app with patient data stored in it:

"One differentiator between our mobile EHR app and others is that ours will be a native app and it will store patient data on the device," Quinn said. "That means the device will not need a signal to access the EH. Any new data will be synched with the record once the phone finds a signal. Of course, we spent a great deal of time on security for the mobile device and service working with a top tier security firm, which will remain an undisclosed partner for now."

"Users will interact with the EHR differently from a mobile device vs. a desktop client," Quinn continued. "The iPhone interface is not ideal for text entry, so we are looking for other ways to get information into the device. The iPhone interface will be used more for things like dictation, while the desktop interface won't be used for that as much. From a task perspective, though, we are not looking to hobble the handheld interface in any way."

EpocratesWhy is Epocrates launching an EHR offering now?

"Well, there has been a huge increase in EHR adoption because of the ARRA deadlines for stimulus fund incentives payments," Rutledge said. "These external deadlines are encouraging physicians to adopt EH, making it an ideal time to enter the market."

"There are also drivers from the technology perspective as well," Quinn pointed out. "It's a good time to enter the market with a mobile EHR because more clinics have a high penetration of smartphone users. Also, 3G wireless networks now have higher bandwidth – enough to support these kinds of applications... Physicians rarely take note of connectivity issues anymore, we don't worry about not being able to make phone calls because of connectivity. We are reaching that same stage for [mobile] Internet connectivity."

"The established EHR vendors are not taking full advantage of this new technology," Rutledge said. "We were in a position to build our EHR from the ground up."

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