Mike Vande Ven Jr. photo
It's a good bet that Madison-area software writers, many of them bright Epic expats, jumped up pumping their fists when they read that Epic would shortly launch the "App Exchange" and "open the floodgates" to developers, as pioneer Madison tech entrepreneur Mark Bakken told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Bakken compared the App Exchange to Apple's wildly successful App Store.
This was huge news. For all the good Epic has done for the Dane County community, it has shown steely indifference to the local health IT industry. The company's intense focus on serving its worldwide 315 customers has never included playing Big Sister to expats dreaming of devising health software to piggyback onto the company's proprietary system.
Bakken begged off from further commenting on the App Exchange, emailing, "My hands are tied on anything related to this and Epic in general right now." Epic spokesman Shawn Kiesau also declined to comment.
But Bakken may have been overly exuberant in his prediction. A local tech leader, who asked for anonymity for business reasons, says Epic insiders say it's a misnomer to compare Epic's soon-to-launch App Exchange with Apple's App Store.
There will be no financial transactions brokered through it.
"It's going to be a directory of known products that have been integrated [into Epic's platform]," the source says. "They're not going to do any quality assurance testing or any sort of certification to these applications. In that regard, it's a little disappointing. It could be much more."
"I don't think it's going to be that big of a deal," the source adds, noting that two of Epic's competitors already have app stores. "They haven't picked up any traction."
Dan Wilson, founder of Moxe Health, which consults to hospitals on health record integration, says announcement of the App Exchange last fall at the annual Epic user-group meeting went unreported. He views it as an evolutionary step rather than an abrupt change of Epic's long-term strategy. Among other things, he says, it's an extension of the already existing "Open Epic" platform that allows outsiders to test their apps and devices within the Epic system of software programs.
These openness measures are important, he says, in countering the frequent complaint that Epic doesn't play well with others and deliberately hinders the "interoperability" of electronic records created by Epic's competitors.
Of particular note, Wilson says, the App Exchange will allow highly respected healthcare providers like Epic customer Cleveland Clinic to package new information, say, on heart health and sell it to smaller community hospitals that are also Epic users.
But he doesn't expect a lot of action.
"If people expect this to be the Apple app store of 2015 the day it opens, they're going to be grossly disappointed," Wilson predicts. "Hospitals don't buy that way. They don't spend $200,000 like that."
Still, Wilson thinks the App Exchange is a good move for Epic. "Where it evolves is unclear to everyone, including Epic," he says. "But the fact that as a large company they're willing to put it out there and explore the idea -- that shows they're paying attention."