The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has provisionally cleared UnitedHealth’s proposed £1.2bn purchase of EMIS following an in-depth investigation into competition concerns.
EMIS is a supplier of data management systems to the NHS, which includes the electronic patient record system used by the majority of NHS GPs in the UK.
Optum, which is a part of US healthcare giant UnitedHealth, currently supplies software used by GPs when prescribing medicines, as well as data analytics and advisory services that the NHS uses to help improve overall healthcare and health service provision.
Optum and EMIS do not supply competing services.
Optum and its competitors use the data that EMIS holds and integrate their own software with EMIS’s electronic patient record system to compete in other markets. That includes the supply of population health management services and medicines optimisation software.
Phase 2 investigation
A phase 1 investigation conducted by the CMA had identified initial concerns that the merger ran the risk of worse outcomes for the NHS by reducing competition.
But these concerns were subsequently probed in more detail in a phase 2 investigation overseen by an independent panel – which provisionally concludes 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 system.
But, further evidence-gathering and analysis found the combination of this position with Optum’s activities “should not present competition concerns”.
In the supply of population health management services, the independent panel provisionally found that the merged business “would not, in practice, be able to use the EMIS business to harm the competitiveness of rivals”. 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.
Touching on the supply of medicines optimisation software, the independent panel 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 showed that such a strategy “would likely be unprofitable with any possible gains being limited and capable of being reduced through intervention by the NHS”.
No harm to competition or patients
Kirstin Baker, chairwoman of the independent inquiry panel carrying out the investigation, (pictured) 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 pointed out that as their findings are provisional, they will now consult on these findings and listen to any further views before reaching a final decision.
It added it welcomes responses from interested parties to its provisional findings by Friday 1 September 2023 which will be considered ahead of the CMA issuing its final report, due by 5 October 2023.