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CMA gives provisional OK to major healthcare tech deal


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally cleared UnitedHealth’s proposed £1.2 billion purchase of EMIS.

It has emphasised the significance of the news, which follows a second phase investigation of the proposal, to NHS bodies’ adoption of digital and data driven solutions in healthcare.

EMIS supplies data management systems to the NHS, including the electronic patient record system used by the majority of GPs in the UK. Optum, part of the US healthcare giant UnitedHealth, currently supplies software used by GPs when prescribing medicines, as well as data analytics and advisory services.

While the merging businesses do not supply competing services, Optum and its competitors use the data that EMIS holds and integrate their own software with its electronic patient record system to compete in other markets, including the supply of population health management services and medicines optimisation software.

Competition concerns

The CMA said the first phase of its investment had identified initial concerns that the merger ran the risk of worse outcomes for the NHS by reducing competition. But these concerns have been probed in more detail in a second phase overseen by an independent panel, which has now provisionally found the merger does not raise competition concerns.

The investigation confirmed that EMIS, as the lead supplier to NHS GPs across the UK, holds a particularly strong market position in the supply of electronic patient record systems. But further evidence gathering and analysis found the combination of this position with Optum’s activities should not present competition concerns.

It also found that the merged business would not, in practice, be able to use the EMIS business to harm the competitiveness of rivals in the supply of population health management services. This is primarily because the NHS would be able to use its oversight role to prevent the merged business from pursuing this kind of strategy.

In relation to the supply of medicines optimisation software, the independent panel has provisionally found that it would not be commercially beneficial for the merged business to restrict access to EMIS’s electronic patient record system. In particular, a more detailed analysis of the market shows that such a strategy would likely be unprofitable with any possible gains being limited and capable of being reduced through intervention by the NHS.

Importance of digital and data

Kirstin Baker, chair of the independent inquiry panel, said: “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.

“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.”

The CMA will now consult on its provisional findings before reaching a final decision, which is expected by early October.

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