Yesterday, MediConnect announced that it had acquired Florida-based PHR vendor, PassportMD. The acquisition is a good move by MediConnect as it will allow them to extend beyond just collecting records on behalf of consumers (it offers such a service on Google Health), but now provide consumers with a solution to present such records in an easy to view and understand format within the framework of the PassportMD PHR. Terms of the deal were not disclosed and PassportMD operations will be moved to MediConnect’s headquarters in Utah.
Based on prior knowledge of PassportMD and my call with MediConnect’s CEO, Amy Anderson yesterday, following is Chilmark Research’s assessment of the acquisition.
PassportMD is a small PHR vendor founded by dermatologist Steven Hacker to primarily serve seniors. When Chilmark Research conducted its study on the PHR market in late 2007/early 2008, PassportMD was predominantly a USB-based PHR targeted at seniors who traveled frequently, thus the “Passport” brand. In mid-2008, PassportMD received investment funding and moved aggressively to build a web-based PHR and recruited Joan Lunden as its spokesperson. In late 2008, PassportMD was one of four PHR vendors selected to participate in the CMS trial that is now taking place in Utah and Arizona.
Targeting seniors, PassportMD is designed to be very easy to use with a fairly straight-forward, intuitive interface. Among its features is a “mouse-over” capability that provides more detailed information on various aspects of one’s health record, for example medications or conditions, to set-up phone call-based medication reminders and the ability to selectively tag and share aspects of one’s PHR with their physician. The company also offered a “Concierge Service” whereby it would act as a proxy for the consumer to gather their personal health information (PHI) from various sources for a small fee to populate the PHR.
PassportMD used a direct-to-consumer marketing model, an extremely challenging approach that no PHR to date has been successful at pursuing. Despite the assistance of a well-known spokesperson such as Joan Lunden, establishing a partnership with Microsoft’s HealthVault, offering a basic PHR for free and being one of the four selected for the CMS demo, PassportMD today has struggled to gain subscribers today having fewer than 5,000 active users.
MediConnect was founded in 1996 and has grown rapidly to nearly 1,000 employees today structured around a direct, business-to-business service model. MediConnect is not so much a software firm, as a services firm providing medical record retrieval services for insurers and lawyers. This explains the high employee count as retrieving medical records in an industry that has a dearth of content in digital format(s) is not a trivial task. Once the medical records are retrieved, MediConnect can scan them and if desired, perform data extraction and medical coding services for its clients (see figure). CEO Amy Anderson stated during our call yesterday that MediConnect now has over 6M records stored in a secure encrypted format on its servers.
Anderson stated that MediConnect had been considering an expansion of its services into the consumer market, including the development of their own PHR. Not long after PassportMD approached MediConnect about its ability to facilitate PassportMD’s concierge service, MediConnect decided that rather then build, simply buy a PHR solution, PassportMD.
MediConnect will continue to offer the PassportMD PHR for free and will even populate the PHR with any consumers’ PHI that they may have stored on their servers, upon a consumer’s request. MediConnect’s business model for PassportMD will be similar to their existing model for business clients, collecting a small fee for retrieval of records on behalf of a consumer while offering the base PassportMD PHR for free. Anderson stated that the consumer’s PHI in PassportMD would be fully portable allowing a consumer to download them to their hard-drive, print them out, send as a PDF or export in either CCR or CCD clinical formats. (Note: MediConnect is already on Google Health and PassportMD is on HealthVault, thus the combined solution will be available on either of these personal health platforms (PHP)).
Based on personal experience, there is certainly a need to assist consumers in collecting their medical records, which may be scattered across numerous institutions and doctors’ offices. But a need is not necessarily a market and MediConnect will face some serious challenges ahead for PassportMD for the following reasons:
The direct to consumer go to market strategy for PHRs is an absolute dead-end. Today’s consumers are still not at a point of education/knowledge as to the value of owning and controlling their PHI. It is highly unlikely that MediConnect will have success where so many before it have failed.
MediConnect may offer a solution suite to health insurers helping insurers provide their members with a PHR populated with claims data. With the notable exceptions of Aetna and United Health, the insurance market has done a terrible job in offering PHRs and supporting portability for their members. Couple that with consumer distrust of insurers and it is pretty easy to see why insurer sponsored PHRs are rarely used and may even be on the decline. One insurance executive I spoke to discontinued their relationship with WebMD replacing this expense with allowing members to export their records to one of the major PHPs, which of course was free for this insurer to enable. MediConnect’s opportunity here is limited.
The employer market for PHRs is one area that MediConnect may find some opportunities but this will take some additional investment on their part to develop a presence in this market among the brokers that serve large self-insured employers who are the primary market for such services. Of course, MediConnect may also look to the employer-based PHP Dossia for some traction in the employer market if they have the patience as Dossia has been moving quite slowly since its founding.
Thankfully, it appears that Mediconnect already has a robust business in the existing services that it provides business clients and can afford to be patient letting the market develop for PHRs and subsequently PassportMD as there are no easy opportunities/quick wins today in the PHR market outside of the provider space.