autumn budget 2017
NHS has been steadfastly shifting toward digital and data-driven solutions to enhance the delivery of healthcare across the nation. Ben Stansall/AFP

The United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) has been steadfastly shifting toward digital and data-driven solutions to enhance the delivery of healthcare across the nation.

EMIS, a prominent player in this arena, has been instrumental in supplying the NHS with data management systems, notably including the electronic patient record system that serves as the cornerstone for the majority of NHS General Practitioners (GPs).

Complementing EMIS's offerings, Optum, an integral part of the illustrious UnitedHealth Group, has been a provider of software solutions for GP prescription management, alongside crucial data analytics and advisory services aimed at optimising the healthcare ecosystem.

The proposed acquisition, which unites these two prominent entities, triggered initial concerns during a CMA Phase 1 investigation. There were apprehensions that the merger could potentially lead to detrimental outcomes for the NHS, manifesting as a reduction in competition. These concerns served as the catalyst for a more intensive Phase 2 enquiry, guided by an independent panel, tasked with delving deeper into the potential implications of the merger.

Of paramount importance throughout this investigation was the intricate interplay between EMIS's data reservoir and Optum's software offerings. While the merged businesses themselves do not directly compete, Optum and its competitors extensively leverage the data infrastructure maintained by EMIS, weaving their proprietary software solutions into EMIS's electronic patient record system.

This symbiotic relationship extends into various domains, including the supply of population health management services and medicines optimisation software.

The independent panel overseeing the Phase 2 investigation has provisionally reached a noteworthy determination: that the merger does not pose significant competition concerns. This provisional clearance signifies a critical juncture, underscoring the potential compatibility and synergies between the two entities while upholding the principles of competition within the healthcare technology sector.

A pivotal aspect of the analysis rested upon EMIS's prominent position as the lead supplier of electronic patient record systems to NHS GPs nationwide. Although the enquiry confirmed the undeniable market strength of EMIS, the analysis revealed that the integration of this dominant position with Optum's activities would not engender substantial competition concerns.

Further scrutiny was directed toward the realm of population health management services. The independent panel tentatively concluded that the merged entity would encounter practical limitations in employing EMIS's infrastructure to undermine the competitiveness of rival entities. This assertion hinges upon the NHS's ability to wield its supervisory role, acting as a check against any strategies that could potentially hinder competition within this domain.

Within the domain of medicines optimisation software, the independent panel's provisional findings hinted at a lack of commercial incentive for the merged entity to curtail access to EMIS's electronic patient record system. A comprehensive market analysis highlighted the likely unprofitability of such a strategy, compounded by the potential for any gains to be constrained through intervention by the NHS.

Kirstin Baker, the esteemed chair of the independent enquiry panel, stated: "Digital technology and data analytics play an increasingly important role in supporting high-quality healthcare in the NHS, and so it's important we investigate this deal thoroughly."

She continued: "We want to ensure the NHS continues to benefit from innovation and efficiencies brought about by technology services competing for its business. After carefully considering a broad range of evidence, we have provisionally found that this deal is not expected to harm competition or adversely affect patients."

It is imperative to note that these findings remain provisional, paving the way for continued dialogue and consultation. The CMA now eagerly anticipates insights and perspectives from all interested stakeholders.

Responses to the provisional findings are encouraged to be submitted by Friday, September 1, 2023. This extensive engagement will inform the CMA's final report, slated for release by October 5, 2023. The culmination of this consultation process will ultimately shape the landscape of healthcare technology services within the NHS.

As the digital age continues to reshape healthcare paradigms, this provisional clearance resonates as a significant milestone that could herald a new era of innovation and collaboration within the UK's healthcare technology ecosystem, a release by the Competition and Markets Authority stated.