Not everyone benefits from IRS ruling, analysts say

6/11/07 Richard Pizzi

Not all electronic medical records vendors will benefit equally from the recent Internal Revenue Service ruling allowing not-for-profit hospitals to provide healthcare information technology to physicians, according to a recent report by analysts at Leerink Swann & Company.

George Hill and Bret Jones of Leerink Swann’s Health Care Equity Research team wrote the report for investors in the wake of the May 11 IRS memorandum. They believe that vendors that currently have a high profile position in the national EMR market are best positioned to capitalize on the “potential influx of spending from not-for-profit hospitals,” but that the ruling could actually harm smaller, regional vendors.

The recent IRS ruling was important because it declared that a not-for-profit hospital’s purchase of an EMR system for a physician would not be considered an “impermissible private benefit,” according to the terms of the exemption to the Stark Anti-trust laws provided by CMS, and would not put a hospital’s tax-exempt status at risk.

In their report, Hill and Jones anticipate that the number of hospitals planning to assist physicians with the purchase of an EMR system may be greater than previously thought.

The Leerink Swann analysts contend that some regions, particularly urban areas, could see a “heightening competitive environment” as hospitals offer financial assistance to physicians for EMR purchases in order to attract more referrals for surgeries and other hospital-based procedures.

While hospital spending on EMRs for physicians is likely to increase, Hill and Jones suggest that contract signings with vendors may not spike in the immediate future. Hospital systems are generally conservative, they say, and their longer cycle capital budgeting process probably means that contract awards are several quarters away.

The analysts point out that the relaxation of the Stark Law may have some negative effects on ambulatory EMR vendors. In the near term, physician practices might choose to delay the purchase of EMR systems, “in the hopes that some local hospital will pick up a large portion of the tab for the costs” of a new EMR.

Hill and Jones also claim that competition for the large hospital-physician contracts that the Stark relaxation allows could lead to increased price competition and discounting among EMR vendors. If so, this could result in “lower net pricing and potentially lower levels of profitability for EMR software vendors.”

While the analysts suggest that many companies that offer an ambulatory EMR package will benefit from the IRS ruling, not all vendors will realize financial rewards.

The Leerink Swann report predicts that hospitals may be willing to be interoperable with a few outpatient EMR systems, but by no means all. If this proves to be true, it could act as a barrier to entry for smaller vendors in the ambulatory market.

“A hospital could choose to work with its inpatient vendor, another 3-4 outpatient [EMR] systems vendors, and then all other smaller vendors could essentially be locked out of that regional market as RHIOs are developed,” Hill and Jones warn in the report.

This possibility unnerves many smaller EMR vendors, says Don Schoen, CEO of Des Moines, Iowa-based MediNotes.

“Hospitals need to allow physician practices – particularly smaller practices – to make choices about which product they want to use in the office,” Schoen said. “This ruling can be a good thing, but it’s very dangerous for a hospital to push for only one specific product in every physician office in a community.”




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