Amazing Charts just announced a new EHR partner program. This isn’t something that’s particularly new for EHR vendors. They all have lots of partners. Some have formalized them into a program like athenahealth has done with their More Disruption Please (MDP) program. Others are much more quiet about the partners they work with and how they work with them.
What’s clear to me in the EHR industry is that an EHR vendor won’t be able to do everything. There are some that like to try (See Epic), but even the largest EHR vendor isn’t going to be able to provide all the services that are needed by a healthcare organization. This is true for ambulatory and hospitals.
Since an EHR vendor won’t be able to do everything, it makes a lot of sense for an EHR vendor to have some sort of partners program. The challenge for an EHR vendor is that a partner program comes with two major expectations. First, the partner has a high quality integration with the EHR software. Second, that the partner is something that the EHR vendor has vetted.
The first challenge is mostly a challenge because most EHR vendors aren’t great at integrating with outside companies. This is a major culture shift for many EHR vendors and it will take time for them to get up to speed on these types of integrations. Plus, these integrations do take some time and investment on the part of the EHR vendor. When there’s time and investment involved, the EHR vendor starts to be much more selective about which companies they want to be working with long term. They don’t want to spend their time and money integrating with a company which none of its users will actually use.
The second challenge is that EHR users assume that an EHR partner is one that’s been vetted by the EHR vendor. Even if the EHR vendor puts all sorts of disclaimers on their partner page, the EHR vendor is still associated with their partners. The written disclaimers might help you avoid legal issues, but working with shady partners can do a lot of damage to your reputation and credibility in the marketplace. I actually think this is probably the biggest reason that EHR vendors have been reluctant to implement partner programs.
I think over time we’ll see the first problem solved as EHR vendors work to standardize their APIs for partner companies. As those APIs become more mature, we’ll see much deeper EHR integrations and the costs to an EHR vendor will drop dramatically when it comes to new partner integrations.
The second problem is much harder to solve. My best suggestion for EHR vendors is to create a platform which allows your users to help you vet potential partners. Not only can they participate in the vetting process, but it can also help you know which partners would be useful to your users. Is there anything more valuable than user driven partnerships? It also puts you in a good position with potential partners if you already have users interested in the integration.
However, an EHR vendor shouldn’t just leave potential partnership requests to their users. Many of their users don’t know of all the potential partner companies. Users are so busy dealing with their day jobs that they often don’t know of all the potential companies that could benefit their practice or hospital. Certainly you should accept user input on potential partnerships, but an EHR vendor should also seed the potential partner feedback platform with a list of potential partners as well. The mix of an EHR vendor created list together with user generated partner lists is much more powerful than one or the other.
We’re just at the beginning of companies partnering and integrating with EHR vendors. I expect that over the next 5 years an EHR vendor will be defined as much by the organizations it chooses to partner with as the features and functions it chooses to develop itself.