When Epocrates officially filed its plans for a $75 million IPO in mid-2010, the point of care medical reference company said it had more than 1 million users across the globe. At the time it said about 40 percent of the physicians in the US used its applications. Two years later Epocrates still has about 1 million total users but about 50 percent of US doctors now use its apps. Epocrates’ user base could change dramatically soon.
During the most recent Epocrates investor call, President and CEO Andrew Hurd mentioned a potentially “transformative” move for the company: Develop an Epocrates app for patients.
“We are looking at this,” Hurd told MobiHealthNews during a recent interview, “but we want to be thoughtful about it. We do have some initiatives underway. This is a path that I think the market is going [down] and it is an opportunity that we are really well-positioned to take advantage of.”
Hurd, of course, is right to be “thoughtful” about any potentially transformative initiatives. Earlier this year Epocrates announced that it finally shuttered its ill-timed EHR offering, which the company has not sold. Hurd said a piece of the EHR functionality has been licensed out to someone, but the company has not and “probably will not sell the whole EHR functionality.” When Epocrates announced that it was pulling the plug on the EHR in February, then-interim CEO Peter Brandt said the project had proven to be a distraction that hindered the company’s ability to pursue opportunities closer to its core capabilities.
Hurd thinks the patient opportunity makes more sense.
“The uniqueness of Epocrates is that this platform does not just have half the docs in the US, but half the docs in the US are using Epocrates while they are interacting with their patients and typically it’s being used during the treatment path,” Hurd said. “That is pretty unique and pretty powerful. That position — both our scale and the fact that Epocrates is being use during that treatment path — is unlike any other medical application in the market today. We believe there is an opportunity for us to be able to extend that encounter.”
Hurd believes Epocrates can become a better “swivel app”, where a doctor turns their mobile’s screen around to share some information with a patient about a drug interaction, for example. The next step would be for that physician to tell that they can download an Epocrates patient application to manage the medications that they are on, check symptoms, or look at drug interactions themselves.
“The value for the physician here is that this patient would now be using the same IP and the same knowledge database that they are instead of [medical reference sources with] conflicting information,” Hurd said. “Also, when the patient leaves the office it is likely they will forget half of what was said — or maybe the patient forgot to ask a question that they wanted to ask their physician. With a shared application that is running on the same IP and has the same database of information, they can refer to that rather than having to call back or return to visit the physician.”
“The continuity of the knowledge base is unlike anything that is out there today,” Hurd said.
Given the overall increased focus on patient engagement in healthcare today and Epocrates positioning at the point of care, a pivot toward making the patient a better informed partner in their own care seems to be the right one for this company. If Epocrates’ physician users become willing channels for an Epocrates patient app — should one ever become available — Epocrates could see substantial gains to its 1 million strong user base, too.
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