Epic, the electronic health record giant based in Verona, Wisconsin, is shutting down its app market and overhauling how its end users interact with third-party applications.
Epic’s app market, where developers can list their applications for end users to explore, will shut down temporarily on January 9, said Nate Bubb, technical services division lead at Epic. The company will reopen the app market at a date to be determined.
In its place, Epic is launching Connection Hub, which will be an online directory where vendors can self-report if they’ve connected into Epic’s application programming interface. It will switch all existing applications on the app market to Vendor Services, a program where vendors can receive developer support and a chance to test their code before going onto Connection Hub. Bubb said no services will be affected by the transition.
While Epic said this will increase the number of third-party vendors that can connect into its system, critics say the company is making it harder for providers to pick their own solutions.
“Imagine if Apple did the same thing,” said Glen Tullman, CEO of Transcarent, a virtual visits and benefits management company, and former CEO of Allscripts, an Epic competitor, via text message. “Whose interest is Epic really serving?”
According to Epic, its health system customers were seeking clarity on apps that the EHR company had vetted. Epic said it isn’t de-platforming solutions, but revamping its system was necessary as more applications have connected into its API.
“We have to support our core software and to [form] any kind of deeper relationship across 1000 vendors is not sustainable,” Bubb said. “I can’t look anyone in the eye and tell [users] we’re doing the deep-level of vetting that they thought were doing.”
Under the plan, a redesigned app market will feature applications with Epic’s seal of approval. Bubb said it will include a smaller lineup of apps than the 800 or so that are presently listed. The other apps will be listed on the Connection Hub directory if they are live with one customer. They won’t receive as much marketing and technical support as those on the app store.
Experts say providers are going to be pushed towards those apps that are on the Epic app market.
“They want to maintain control,” said Alexander Lennox-Miller, lead analyst in healthcare IT at CB Insights. “It basically allows them to have two tiers.”
Epic said it hasn’t yet determined which apps will get selected for its revamped app store. Critics say the EHR company could be scrutinized for which companies get on this app market.
“They’re going to have to find out how they build transparency for customers,” said Erik Brown, a senior partner in consultancy West Monroe’s product experience and engineering lab. “Who are the vendors they have relationships with versus other similar solutions they might not be directly promoting?”
Bubb said the company was not stacking the deck against certain third-party vendors but its end users sought help in sorting out a crowded market.
"If you look at the last few years, more than $50 billion has been invested in digital health startups that come and go,” Bubb said. “I’ve heard from a lot of customers that there’s a lot of noise and they want more signal.”
According to Bubb, Epic has not had internal discussions about the fees it will seek for solutions that receive its seal of approval.
Brown said health systems should research and examine any implementation with the same level of scrutiny regardless of where it’s listed. Lennox-Miller cautioned developers in spaces where Epic is likely to compete.
“If you have a product that’s filling a gap that Epic doesn’t offer, and it becomes extremely popular and takes off... Epic’s next step is going to be to develop an equivalent and they’re going rollout it out, and it’s going to be free to all their clients,” Lennox-Miller said.
However, Lennox-Miller wasn’t completely down on Epic for making this move.
“Prior to this Epic had their relatively closed off ecosystem, walled garden approach,” Lennox-Miller said. “They’ll still have some version of that with the app market with their preferred vendors or whatever you want to call that, but having more stuff that is potentially well-integrated, truly interoperable with core EHR functions is better in my opinion.”