Axios Pro Exclusive Content

General Catalyst's chance to tackle EHRs from inside

an illustration of a health plus shaped like an open lock

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

With its intent to acquire Summa Health, General Catalyst might finally have a chance at tackling the bane of most providers' existence — electronic health records (EHRs).

Why it matters: Big Tech and startups alike have failed spectacularly at their various attempts to change the EHR.

Details: The technical backbone of Ohio-based Summa is provided by Epic, which holds 89% of the EHR market share of U.S. acute care hospitals — making the company the largest operator in the sector, per a 2023 KLAS report.

  • Summa Health board chair George Strickler says 82% of Summa's patients are using Epic patient portal MyChart.

Be smart: Every player in the game lacks one piece of equipment necessary to win — and those with all the equipment have already won.

What they're saying: "The one thing that we were lacking is that our information technology, we had underinvested in it," Strickler says.

  • With the majority of patients using MyChart, "we're starting to accumulate the right kind of information that can drive us and look at value, not only in productivity and efficiency but how do we communicate with our consumers," he says.

Zoom in: The original idea behind GC portfolio company Commure — which recently merged with Athelas and received an additional $70 million from the firm — was to create a kind of plug-and-play environment for EHR systems, per UCSF Department of Medicine chair Bob Wachter, who consulted for GC on the company.

  • That's a concept GC could resurrect at Summa — only this time, with a first-person look at how such a tool might work and the kinds of workflow details it would need to incorporate to actually benefit providers.
  • "I've been asked by every major tech company in the universe, "The EHRs aren't very good. Should we build another one?"' recalls Wachter. "Hemant, I think, was smart enough never to ask me that question."
  • Instead, GC developed Commure as a kind of surge protector for the EHR. "You have multiple plugs and it's now pretty easy to plug in all these other third-party tools," says Wachter.

The big picture: Providers, who possess the knowledge to improve the EHR, lack the resources and motivation to do so. Meanwhile, tech companies, who have the resources and motivation to improve the EHR, lack the knowledge required to do so.

  • At the same time, entrenched EHR vendors Epic and Cerner have the knowledge and resources to streamline the system but, given their well-established market dominance, may lack the requisite motivation.
  • "You might have a great tool that surfaces information about health care needs or moves you more efficiently through EHR, but if you don't change the flow, the process, that's just nice information," says Jefferson Health president Baligh Yehia.

Catch up fast: General Catalyst aims with its purchase of Summa to infuse the system with technology that helps it run more efficiently and provide better care.

  • Hemant Taneja, GC's CEO, says the firm will start with "low-hanging fruit" issues like streamlining provider experience, declining to share specifics on what portfolio companies might be involved.
Go deeper