Epic Systems Corp. is about to launch its own app store — much like Apple’s App Store — opening the door for outside companies to create applications that will work with Epic’s widely used electronic health records systems.
Mark Bakken, co-founder and former chief executive of Nordic Consulting, the largest consultant firm working with customers of Verona-based Epic, stirred up excitement about the plan Tuesday at a luncheon meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network.
Bakken said the app store will launch in a few weeks and it will “open the floodgates” for all sorts of companies to develop and market their apps, especially those in the Madison area populated by former Epic employees.
“We think Epic is big now? This will cement their long-term legacy. It’s exactly the right thing to do,” Bakken said later in an interview.
Epic spokesman Shawn Kiesau confirmed the plans but could not provide immediate details. It will be called the App Exchange, he said.
Bakken said Epic’s App Exchange will work similarly to Apple’s App Store.
“Let’s say you want to create an app for the iPhone. Apple has automated that online. As long as you play by all the rules, they’ll publish it,” said Bakken. Epic will be “publishing a road map about how to work with Epic,” he said.
Bakken said there are all sorts of potential uses for the Epic App Exchange, both for health care organizations and for consumers. He said he expects the first apps to come from Epic’s customers, so that one health care organization can offer other hospitals and clinics the specialized programs it has developed to work along with Epic’s software.
“Once they officially launch this, then it’ll be very, very easy. It will really open the floodgates for anyone that knows Epic to really get their product on the market quickly and in front of Epic’s customers. So the distribution channel is huge,” Bakken said.
Politically, he said, the App Exchange should squelch some of the criticism Epic has drawn from those who say its system is too closed, and that it is too hard to share medical records between health care groups that use Epic’s systems and those that don’t.
That may be particularly important as the U.S. Defense Department considers which team should receive a contract worth up to $11 billion over five years to install an electronic health records system for the U.S. military. Epic and IBM have submitted a joint application for that contract, which is expected to be awarded later this year.
Bakken’s comments about Epic’s App Exchange came as the Madison tech entrepreneur spelled out plans for HealthX Ventures, a fund Bakken is forming to invest in very early-stage health information technology companies, many of which are being created in the Madison area by former Epic employees.
Currently at $5 million, Bakken hopes to raise $10 million to $20 million for the fund. He said Nordic’s clients include some of Epic’s most prestigious customers, such as Kaiser Permanente, Johns Hopkins and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, and he plans to introduce some of the local start-ups to them.
A goal of HealthX Ventures is “helping startups get to the next level,” said Bakken. If they can snag $1 million in revenue within a year, other venture firms will want to invest, he said.
“And hopefully, we have five more Epics,” Bakken said.
Epic has about 8,000 employees and its preliminary 2014 revenues were $1.8 billion, spokesman Kiesau said.
About 135 people attended the luncheon at the Sheraton Madison Hotel held by Wisconsin Innovation Network, a tech-oriented group that’s part of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Among them was Niko Skievaski, co-founder of Redox, a new business aimed at helping health care applications connect with electronic health records companies such as Epic.
Redox grew out of 100health, initially meant to incubate health IT startups. “We were missing the capital and therefore couldn’t get them going fast enough. That’s why we focused on Redox,” Skievaski said.
He said Bakken was Redox’s lead investor in a $350,000 funding round in December. “He sat other investors down and said, ‘Guys, this is a good deal,’” Skievaski said. He said Bakken’s HealthX fund is “exactly what Madison needs right now.”