M&A ramps up for clinical communications companies

A recent spate of mergers and acquisitions among clinical communications companies reflects providers’ shift away from purchasing targeted tools that address single problems and toward wanting broader platforms that tie in multiple capabilities, experts say.

Symplr, which sells healthcare governance, risk management and compliance software, in October completed an acquisition of clinical communications company Halo Health. Medical products giant Baxter in September said it would buy Hillrom, a company that sells communications tools, among other medical technologies.

Clinical communications company Spok postponed its October investor day amid a “strategic alternatives review,” as the company’s board considers a sale to Acacia Research.

The clinical communications market is consolidating, said Stephanie Davis, a senior research analyst who covers healthcare technology at investment bank SVB Leerink, as many providers have implemented tools over the years designed to solve single problems—such as secure texting or nurse calls—and are now looking to replace them with a central platform that ties in all of those communications capabilities.

“You have a lot of very well-funded health tech startups right now,” all selling to the same customers, Davis said. “It makes more sense to have them consolidated into one platform.”

Davis said she expects to see continued M&A in clinical communications, particularly since the remaining startups are now competing against these broader platforms.

Today’s biggest clinical communications players tend to comprise secure text messaging for physicians, nurses and other members of a patient’s care team, as well as integrating with clinical IT systems to fuel automated alerts. They also tend to tie in scheduling systems, so a user can search for and message a patient’s physician or the specialist on call from one place, rather than having to track that down themselves.

Some products also offer tools to connect with patients and families.

“I think what you’re seeing is a natural consolidation that happens as an industry matures,” said Brent Lang, CEO of Vocera, a clinical communications company.

Vocera this spring acquired PatientSafe Solutions—a mobile app that includes text messaging, voice calls, automated alerts and nurse call notifications—to accelerate its shift to the cloud and increase its footprint among small and mid-sized hospitals and health systems, according to Lang.

The PatientSafe app, since rebranded as Vocera Edge, also brings in data from electronic health record systems, so clinicians can access patient data from text-based messages.

Last year Vocera also acquired Ease Applications—an app that nurses can use to update a patient’s family and friends on their progress in the hospital, such as during surgery.

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