Epocrates, Mobile App Developer Since Palm Days, Preps for IPO-And for Push Into Electronic Medical Records

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drug makers and marketers pay Epocrates for help recruiting healthcare professionals who use the app for market-research surveys.

There’s another difference between Epocrates and most other mobile app companies. While most apps are only available for one or two mobile operating systems, Epocrates is “very agnostic to platforms,” in Crane’s words. That’s thanks to its long history, which stretches back to the beginning of the smartphone revolution. Co-founder Jeff Tangney started out distributing a freeware equivalent of the familiar Physicians’ Desk Reference for the Palm PDA in 1998. After 100,000 doctors downloaded it in the first year, he realized he was on to something big. “Physicians were going out and buying Palms so that they could download Epocrates,” Crane says. (Tangney has since left the company; today he’s working on a related product, a mobile medical directory service called Doximity mHealth.)

You can still run Epocrates on your Palm or Pocket PC device, but the original platforms were eventually overtaken by RIM’s BlackBerry, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, and then, in 2008, by the iPhone. Apple’s blockbuster phone was a game-changer for Epocrates, Crane says. By 2005 or so, the company had hit a revenue plateau. Palm wasn’t coming out with new platforms, and BlackBerry was pursuing big corporate users, not healthcare providers. So when Apple introduced a marketplace for third-party iPhone apps, Epocrates jumped at the chance to exploit the phone’s relatively large color touchscreen.

Epocrates was one of five app providers highlighted by Steve Jobs when Apple unveiled the iTunes App Store in a March 2008 briefing. (The others were Salesforce, AOL, Electronic Arts, and Sega.) In the first four months after the iTunes store went live, Epocrates “achieved what would have been the entire year’s projected growth,” Crane says. “It was a linear slope and it’s still growing.”

With so many physicians and nurses already firing up Epocrates on their phones in the clinic, the company says it now has an opportunity to help doctors take whole practices digital. The 2009 federal economic stimulus legislation included $19 billion in incentives for EHR conversion, and Crane says Epocrates plans to offer small practices—those with 10 or fewer physicians, which are traditionally the slowest to adopt new information technologies—technology that helps them qualify for the subsidies with less hassle. “It will be SaaS-based, they won’t need a server, and it will be in a very competitive price range,” she says. “It will be very much designed for physicians, by physicians, not by engineers. We need to work within the physicians’ existing workflow, as opposed to pushing them into a workflow.”

Crane says Epocrates’ EHR system, which it expects to launch this spring, will focus on “the functions that are really necessary,” such as the ability to document a patient encounter, review lab results, and write electronic prescriptions. But she says the centerpiece of the Epocrates EHR—and one of its advantages in the marketplace—will be … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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4 responses to “Epocrates, Mobile App Developer Since Palm Days, Preps for IPO-And for Push Into Electronic Medical Records”

  1. You highlight well the challenges that Epocrates will face going into the EMR world. They’re not use to the SaaS model and that will be an important challenge to deal with appropriately. Plus, while they have the clinical content, it will be interesting to see how usable their EMR software is and in what form factors they provide.

    I think it will also be interesting to see how many Epocrates users actually look at the Epocrates EMR. Seems like Epocrates might be about a year or so too late to really capture the market effectively.