College of American Pathologists
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Whither CoPath?

November 2001
Eric Skjei

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Cerner’s purchase of Dynamic Healthcare Technologies Inc. has brought many consolidation questions to the fore for some LIS customers, particularly those who were using or considering using Dynamic’s CoPath Plus, a leading anatomic pathology system, before the acquisition.

"We don’t use CoPath," says Michael Feldman, MD, PhD, "but eventually we’re going to have to upgrade to something from our current system, and this move obviously takes a major player off the field." Dr. Feldman is assistant professor and director of pathology informatics at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which is a Cerner Classic site.

Like many other laboratorians, Dr. Feldman wonders about a basic question the acquisition raises: What does Cerner intend to do with two AP systems, its own and CoPath? "I hear people from Cerner and CoPath saying that the two systems will remain independent, but I can’t imagine how that could be the case for very long," he says. "Why would one company support two competing products?"

Even if such duplication were supportable from a business standpoint—if, for example, the revenue stream from CoPath was significant and profits were healthy—wouldn’t the cost of continuing to develop and support two separate systems ultimately become prohibitive? Dr. Feldman wonders.

The most likely answer involves something of a blending of both products over time. "I imagine eventually there will be something that emerges as a hybrid of some of the functionality of each of these two systems," Dr. Feldman says. "My guess is that some of the best of CoPath will over time be merged into Cerner’s HNA Millennium product."

Another AP system customer, Dr. Walter Henricks of the Cleveland Clinic, was already a user of the MUMPS version of CoPath when the acquisition was announced, and he now finds himself facing similar questions. "The Clinic has been a CoPath customer since well before I started here," he says, "back as far as the CoMed days in the 1980s."

Cerner’s acquisition of Dynamic caught Dr. Henricks in mid-upgrade. He had been planning to move to the client-server version of CoPath for some time, and had in fact completed the contract phase of the process. "We signed the contract earlier this year, and started the project," Dr. Henricks says. "The hardware was ordered and is now being loaded with the software for the implementation, which will begin in October."

The question Dr. Henricks faces is a simple one: What is Cerner planning to do with CoPath?

"I asked myself this question," Dr. Henricks says, "and came to two conclusions. First, I believe Cerner will integrate the best of the CoPath technology into its own product line over time. Second, I believe it made this acquisition in part because it wanted access to the client list of a product that not only commands a leading market share, but also claims some very prestigious names among its client sites."

Dr. Henricks doubts the long-term viability of maintaining development and support systems for two more or less comparable products. "I can’t imagine a company having parallel R&D tracks for an AP system," Dr. Henricks says.

With the acquisition still in process at CAP TODAY press time, Cerner chief financial officer Marc Naughton had this to say: "Although the specifics of the Dynamic acquisition are not yet finalized, Cerner’s history of acquisitions proves our commitment to our clients. We have never sunsetted a product. By combining the knowledge assets and strength of both companies, we can improve service to our clients and work with all clients to determine the best strategy for their situation."