It’s been a big year for wheeling and dealing in the healthcare IT space, that much is for sure. And the biggest of all happened just days before the calendar flipped over, with Oracle’s landmark $28.3 billion acquisition of Cerner.
That one, naturally, sits atop our list of some of the biggest and boldest M&A deals of 2021. Be sure to stay tuned in 2022 as we continue to explore what its ripple effects will be for those companies and their customers.
The Wall Street Journal first had the scoop, the weekend before, noting that a big acquisition might be in the offing and that the sheer size of the deal would be Oracle’s biggest buy ever – triple the size of its 2005 PeopleSoft deal.
When it was officially announced the following Monday, leaders from the two companies touted their combined ability to “provide our overworked medical professionals with a new generation of easier-to-use digital tools that enable access to information via a hands-free voice interface to secure cloud applications,” Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison said, and enable “connected, high-quality and efficient patient care,” as Cerner CEO Dr. David Feinberg said.
Industry reaction to the Oracle-Cerner deal (an early version of which was first floated way back in 2008), has been mixed, with most analysts taking a wait-and-see approach.
It’s still “very much a developing story,” said Chilmark Research founder John Moore. “It’s going to be a while before we figure out exactly what’s going on here. But I think the repercussions to the broader industry are pretty significant compared to a lot of other big acquisitions we’ve seen in the past decade or so. This one’s pretty monumental.”
While hardly the priciest acquisition of the year, this one just goes to show how fast currents move in the health IT space: Just eight months ago it was Cerner doing the buying, spending $375 million for the analytics firm. With specialties in Alzheimer’s, oncology and rare diseases, Cerner was attracted by Kantar’s abilities to enhance its pharma life sciences research capabilities and build out its Learning Health Network consortium.
A similar dynamic existed with what was the second-biggest merger announced in 2021 – this one also a legacy tech behemoth spending big on a major healthcare IT developer. Just two months before Microsoft bid a whopping $19.7 billion for Nuance Communications, Nuance had made a buy of its own, scooping up AI-powered clinical documentation startup Saykara in February.
Both the Oracle-Cerner and Microsoft-Nuance mega deals will bear watching in the year ahead, presuming each is finalized, especially with regard to their natural language processing and conversational AI capabilities. Oracle is making a big deal of what its Voice Digital Assistant will bring to Cerner customers. Nuance, of course, is also an established player in voice-enabled clinical documentation.
There were still other multi-billion-dollar acquisitions in 2021, of course, not least Hellman & Friedman and Bain Capital buying athenahealth for $17 billion – the second time the cloud health IT vendor has been acquired in the past three years. (It was bought for $5.7 billion by Veritas Capital in 2018 and combined with its Virence subsidiary.) The deal is expected to be finalized in Q1 2022, with athenahealth CEO Bob Segert continuing in his position.
The big-spending tone was set early in the year, with Optum’s $13 billion purchase of Change Healthcare ($8 billion in cash, $5 billion of Change Healthcare debt), announced during the first week of January. “Together we will help streamline and inform the vital clinical, administrative and payment processes on which healthcare providers and payers depend to serve patients,” said Optum CEO and UnitedHealth Group president Andrew Witty at the time.
And let’s add one more $10 billion-plus transaction for good measure. In September, medical-products company Baxter International announced its $10.5 billion acquisition of Hillrom, which develops technologies for connected care and clinical collaboration. The goal is to expand Baxter’s offerings beyond hospital settings, and provide a broader array of services to clinicians and patients, officials said.
In November, software-as-a-service platform EverCommerce announced its plans to buy DrChrono, the longtime developer of cloud-based iOS tools for physician practices. This past June, DrChrono announced that it would further expand its telehealth efforts, with help from $12 million from ORIX Growth Capital.
Allscripts genomics and personalized medicine subsidiary 2bPrecise was acquired by AccessDX, developer of lab diagnostics and decision-support tools, in August. The goal is to help healthcare clients of all shapes and sizes establish, build, and advance new precision medicine programs, officials said.
In April, Vocera Communications announced its acquisition of PatientSafe Solutions for an undisclosed sum. PatientSafe’s cloud technology combines nurse call notifications, secure messages, voice and other alerts from the EHR, helping clients manage workflows within a smartphone app. The deal “positions us well to extend our reach into small and mid-size hospitals with a simple-to-deploy and easy-to-use solution,” said Vocera CEO Brent Lang.
Just this past week, Edifecs completed its November-announced acquisition of Health Fidelity, which develops risk-adjustment tools for both payers and providers. The goal is to use Health Fidelity’s models to help Edifecs clients manage risk-adjustment beyond retrospective review – enabling insights higher up in the clinical workflow, said CEO Venkat Kavarthapu.
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