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Epic to open app store; meanwhile nemesis athenahealth already has one

While EHR market leader Epic Systems Corp. plans to open its own app store, modeled partly on Apple Corp.’s uber-successful App Store, one of its arch-rivals, athenahealth Inc, already has one.

Verona, Wisc.-based Epic confirmed the plan to the Wisconsin State Journal without elaborating. But the co-founder and former CEO of the biggest consulting firm that works with Epic customers told the paper that such a venture would be a huge stimulus for companies to develop apps for Epic users.

“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,” Marc Bakken, the former CEO of Nordic Consulting, told the Journal.

Beyond expanding its market, Epic’s apparent intentions also raise questions about whether the EHR giant’s move is in response to widespread criticism that its systems aren’t open to working with those from other vendors.

Ironically, in pursuing an app store, Epic may be following the lead of one of its most trenchant critics, athenahealth, whose executives have alleged that Epic’s platforms are not interoperable.

Last year, Watertown, Mass.-based athenahealth opened its “More Disruption Please” online marketplace for its customers.

While an athenahealth spokeswoman declined comment on the Epic strategy, athenahealth sees its marketplace as similar to Apple’s App Store in that customers don’t pay a fee to use the forum, although athenahealth does get a cut of each sale in a revenue-sharing arrangement.

And all of the marketplace companies’ products and services fit in with athenahealth’s cloud-based EHR and billing systems.

In a similar development a few months ago, Epic, which has long disavowed the cloud-based EHR approach that athenahealth is perhaps the most vocal exponent of, confirmed that it is building a cloud hosting data center.