Epic’s App Orchard Gains Traction with Hospitals, Third Parties

In February, Epic Systems formally introduced App Orchard, a program aimed at helping other healthcare software companies integrate their digital products with Epic’s tools for managing patient records.

Hundreds of health systems around the world already use Verona, WI-based Epic’s software to document patient information. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers can use the software to schedule appointments for patients, order medications, and bill for care, to name a few examples. However, the company also needs to configure its software to send and receive information from third parties—software vendors that need to be able to share data with Epic at health systems that use the company’s products.

For the past several months, Epic has been working with outside software developers to get App Orchard set up. The company’s strategy appears to involve establishing a critical mass of third-party applications on App Orchard before making it available to Epic customers as an app store-esque catalog of products.

Charlotte, NC-based PeraHealth and Philadelphia-based Goliath Technologies are among the software companies participating in the Epic program. But they’re still waiting for an interface that would allow health systems to quickly purchase and install products listed on App Orchard, says PeraHealth CEO Stephanie Alexander.

“The hospitals don’t have direct access yet, [but] we think it’s [coming] very soon,” says Alexander, whose company develops software that pulls in data from electronic health records and other sources to display, in real time, how a patient’s condition has been improving or deteriorating. “I think it’s going to be in a couple weeks or so that [Epic customers] will have direct access” to App Orchard, she says.

Asked about the prospect of Epic announcing App Orchard’s availability as a hospital-facing tool during the company’s annual mega-conference next week, Alexander says, “If I was them, that’s what I would do.”

Epic declined to comment about any announcement plans.

While App Orchard is not yet set up in a way that mimics the format of Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) App Store and Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Google Play store for downloading mobile apps, App Orchard is already being used to help integrate third-party vendors’ software with Epic’s, Alexander says.

For example, App Orchard—which consists of application programming interfaces, documentation on writing and testing code, and other resources—has made it possible for some health systems that use PeraHealth’s software to view health condition data for a specific group of patients, Alexander says. A clinician can indicate which patients she wishes to “follow” during her shift using Epic’s “My List” functionality. This tells PeraHealth’s software to only show graphs and other data on patients that the user has indicated she wants to appear on My List.

“We used the App Orchard to make the My List function work with our product,” Alexander says. “If a physician has a list of five patients that they’re tracking, they can pull up all five of those graphs for those patients at one time. Without the My List functionality—via the App Orchard—they wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

PeraHealth says it counts more than 80 health systems as customers. Some of them, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Houston Methodist, and Yale New Haven Health System, are also Epic clients.

PeraHealth first integrated its software with Epic’s about five years ago, Alexander says. One of the health systems that uses PeraHealth’s products went to Epic to make the case that the North Carolina company’s software should be listed on App Orchard, which led to PeraHealth becoming a member of the program, she says.

Another healthtech startup that has been working with Epic to make its products available through App Orchard is Healthfinch. The Madison, WI-based company develops software to automate routine tasks performed by physicians and others who care for patients in clinics.

Chris Tyne, senior vice president of special projects at Healthfinch, says there has been some recent speculation in the health IT industry about when Epic will open the hospital-facing “front end” of App Orchard, but that his company hasn’t received any information from Epic about a firm timeline for doing so.

Some of Epic’s competitors, including Watertown, MA-based Athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN), have their own catalogs of compatible third-party applications. Last year, one of Healthfinch’s products, Swoop, became available for download on the Athenahealth Marketplace.

Tyne also mentions that this year was the first that Epic invited Healthfinch to set up a booth at Epic’s yearly Users Group Meeting. The fact that the company has begun allowing third-party software vendors to attend the conference, which according to an Epic spokesperson is expected to bring more than 17,000 people to the company’s bucolic corporate campus, could be seen as an effort to push back against the view among some observers that Epic is a “closed platform.”

App Orchard also appears to be a step toward making connecting the technologies hospitals and clinics use—as well as ones they’re considering implementing—a more open and collaborative process.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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