According to the company, more than one million health care providers have downloaded Epocrates software, and more than 420,000 update it regularly. The software allows physicians to look up dosing information and contraindication on new drugs. It can also check for interactions between drugs and look up formulary information and retail pricing. Information on drugs, diagnostics, and diseases is frequently updated.
Epocrates CEO Kirk Loevner said the company had initially focused on Palm devices when it launched its clinical reference software because those devices were more mature. He predicted that clinicians might switch to Pocket PCs now because of the availability of the new suite.
Russ Cucina, a clinician and professor at the University of California at San Francisco, said Epocrates offered a host of useful features that make it more powerful than printed guides. Some aspects of the product bothered him, though.
For example, Epocrates regularly sends clinical updates and some of them are sponsored by drug companies. While these messages are clearly labeled as such, Cucina said, "I do find it insidious to have commercial content wrapped into a reference application."
However, he said, "I still find the product too useful to give it up."
Loevner said that the clinical messages are based on clinical need.
Epocrates distributes a basic free version of its clinical reference tools as well as an enhanced subscription-based version, but Loevner did not immediately have breakdowns on which versions were most popular. In addition to subscriptions, he said, Epocrates generates revenue from insurance companies to list formulary information.
While the company tracks what information physicians use, Loevner said Epocrates does not sell the information. However, some drug companies pay Epocrates to send voluntary surveys to health care professionals, who are typically compensated for responding to them.
Vivek Subramany, an industry analyst with Frost and Sullivans Healthcare and Life Sciences IT practice, said Epocrates products represent a good value proposition. He believes that an increase in e-prescribing—the ability for physicians to send prescriptions directly to pharmacies from the point of care—will change the market.
E-prescribing systems are part of a national plan for creating infrastructure for health IT and are considered a relatively easy way to ease physicians into using interoperable health IT.
On the one hand, Subramany said, e-prescribing vendors may partner with Epocrates to provide clinical reference help. That could expand the number of users, particularly if physicians did not need to manually upload updates. On the other hand, e-prescribing companies might choose to write their own clinical reference applications and bundle it in with their own software. Subramany said he expected both scenarios to play out.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Loevner saw the rise of e-prescribing as a boon to business. "We are partnering with some e-prescription companies—DrFirst [Inc.] and MercuryMD [Inc.]—so that we can integrate right into their product," he said. "We have a very recognizable brand, so most of the companies that are in the e-prescribing market want to work with us."