Athenahealth to acquire physician favorite mobile app Epocrates for $293M

Epocrates (s EPOC), a top mobile app among physicians, is joining athenahealth (s ATHN), a provider of Electronic Health Records (EHR) software and other online services to doctors and hospitals.

On Monday, athenahealth said it will pay $293 million for the mobile health company, which marks a 22 percent premium over Epocrates’ closing price on Jan. 4.

On a conference call with investors, analysts and journalists, athenahealth CEO and co-founder Jonathan Bush said that the company has long been looking for a way to gain awareness among physicians. In Epocrates, which says it reaches more than 330,000 doctors with its iOS(s appl), Android(s goog) and BlackBerry(s rimm) apps, Bush said, “we believe we have found a breakthrough.”

“We have so much to give doctors,” Bush said. “And so few know who we are.”

Epocrates, which was founded in 1998, initially offered doctors a Palm Pilot-based free drug reference resource. When it transitioned to iOS, the app quickly became a hit, reaching 2,230 downloads per day, Bush said. Athena estimates that 90 percent of doctors are familiar with the app, with about half using it regularly.

Watertown, Mass.-based athenahealth was founded in 1997 and provides hospitals with cloud-based medical billing and patient records services.  Assuming the deal closes, athenahealth will look to Epocrates as a way to extend the company’s name recognition and give doctors a “light” entry point for the service, Bush said.  Beyond using the app for marketing, he said Epocrates will integrate with its electronic records service athenaClinicals so that doctors will be able look up Epocrates drug information straight from Athena’s software, initiate processing the prescription and complete other tasks.

Now, he said, Epocrates is like a “Yelp” for drugs, providing doctors with quick summaries on safety information, interactions and side effects. But, Bush said, in the future, it could be more like an interactive “OpenTable” for drugs, as well as other procedures.