A US healthcare company has been given the official go-ahead to buy leading GP IT supplier EMIS in a £1.2bn deal.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been investigating whether the merger would reduce competition in the market.
In August, the regulator gave provisional approval, and last week it rubber-stamped the decision following a consultation.
The US company UnitedHealth, which functions as Optum in the UK, provides medicines optimisation software to GPs and population health management for the NHS.
While the two companies are not direct competitors, Optum uses data from EMIS in order to integrate their own software with EMIS’s electronic patient record (EPR) system.
The CMA was therefore concerned that Optum would be able to ‘limit its competitors’ access’ to the data held in EMIS’s EPR, however the investigation found that this is unlikely given the NHS can use its ‘oversight role’ to prevent this strategy.
Its final decision, the regulator has concluded that the merger ‘may not be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition’ in the UK market.
According to the analysis, EMIS’s UK market share in the supply of primary care EPR systems is between 50% and 60%, and that the high cost of switching suppliers has resulted in ‘very low levels’ of GP practices switching to or from EMIS’s EPR in the last five years.
NHS England told the CMA that, due to the ‘entrenched market position’ of both EMIS and TPP, it is ‘actively looking to stimulate new market entry’.
An initial investigation in January found that the merger could result in a ‘substantial lessening of competition’ within the UK market, and as such it was referred for a second round of investigation.
During this first phase, the CMA received ‘a large number of concerns’ about the impact of the merger, including from NHS Digital.
Some of these concerns suggested the takeover could allow Optum to foreclose its competitors ‘who rely on data from, or integration with, EMIS Web’.
Chair of the independent inquiry group Kirstin Barker said they are ‘satisfied that this deal will not reduce competition or mean that the NHS and its patients lose out’.
She said: ‘The NHS increasingly relies on digital technology and data analytics to support the delivery of high-quality healthcare.
‘So, it is important to ensure that, as the main customer of these services, the NHS continues to have access to the options and innovations that new and developing technology can bring.’
Last week, NHS England announced £2m of funding for an engagement campaign to gather views from patients on how data in their GP record is used.
And at the Conservative Party Conference, health secretary Steve Barclay unveiled a £30m fund to speed up adoption of new health technology in the NHS.
EMIS has received criticism in recent months with GPs reporting numerous technical issues and outages, including a ‘significant disruption’ affecting thousands of GP practices in May.
Pulse’s recent analysis of frequent IT faults looked at the effects on patient safety and GP workload.