Down the rabbit hole at Epic: 9 key points from the Users Group Meeting

Close to 18,000 people gathered at Epic Systems' headquarters in Verona, Wis., this week for the vendor's annual Users Group Meeting. Hospital and health system leaders shared their experiences with Epic's platform, and Epic leaders discussed new developments and offerings in its software suite. This idea of collaborating to build on successes, and doing so with a humanitarian mindset, was the underlying theme of Tuesday morning's executive address, delivered by Epic founder and CEO Judy Faulkner.

Dressed like the Mad Hatter in brown boots, a coat jacket with coattails and a top hat,  to fit with UGM's "Adventures in Wonderland" theme, Ms. Faulkner outlined milestones for Epic and Epic customers present. She also shared plans for the future, all while underscoring the importance of working together.

"We're not going to be the best at everything, and that's why…collaboration amongst health systems is so important," Ms. Faulkner says.

Here are eight takeaways from this year's UGM executive address.

1. Users from 13 countries gathered in Verona for the UGM, which began Monday and runs through Thursday. In the past year, users from two new countries — Finland and Lebanon — joined the Epic community. The past year marked a number of international go-lives as well, including in the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Denmark and Singapore.

2. Ms. Faulkner mentioned 25 hospitals — more than 7,000 providers — joined the Epic community in the past year through Epic Community Connect, a program that enables enterprise hospitals and health systems to extend their software license to affiliated practices. For example, Tewksbury, Mass.-based Covenant Health and Chesapeake (Va.) RegionalMedicalCenter are implementing Epic via Bon Secours Health System in Marriottsville, Md., and Southeastern Health in Lumberton, N.C., will implement via Charlotte, N.C.-based Carolinas HealthCare System.  Ms. Faulkner said 70 percent of Epic customers are part of the Community Connect program. 

3. Ms. Faulkner identifies Epic as a programming shop — the company spends just over 50 percent of operating expenses on research and development each year, and the vendor does not acquire outside systems or platforms. She said this helps ensure the Epic platform is natively integrated and the patient is at the center of everything, no matter what the module. "When you build [a product], then you have to think of the whole framework…and the whole framework around that product. When you acquire something, you acquire something that was built as a standalone and wasn't there to optimize the whole," she said.

Instead, Ms. Faulkner said Epic seeks to harmonize all elements of patient care. Just like population health platforms like Epic's Healthy Planet pull information from other sources to give providers one comprehensive view for case management, Epic is leveraging a design philosophy called "Happy Together" that draws information from various data sources and points of interfacing — like patients using MyChart and affiliates using EpicCare Link — to aggregate and present that data in one place chronologically.

"You don't need multiple MyCharts," Ms. Faulkner said.

4. Carl Dvorak, president of Epic, took the stage after Ms. Faulkner's address to discuss upcoming initiatives and research and development. Included among the developments he discussed, Mr. Dvorak outlined how Epic is trying to address the growing opioid epidemic. Epic data indicates about 20 million patients have 39 million prescriptions for opioids. Mr. Dvorak said Epic is working to integrate prescription drug management programs in different states to help deal with the crisis.

Additionally, Epic is analyzing medical chart data, such as how often a patient clicks the pain pump button, to determine predictive models to help manage opioids. "We're using that information and their information from the chart to build out predictive models to help you help the patient…in controlling and managing opioids," Mr. Dvorak said.

5. In her address, Ms. Faulkner announced four key upcoming programs and initiatives. First, she introduced a new approach to installing Epic, one that intends to be faster and cheaper. Epic employees will do a portion of the installation for clients and provide technical support staff. Ms. Faulkner said this model should prove less costly than hospitals deploying their own IT teams for installations. "We think that's less expensive because since our folks do this repeatedly, they'll be able to [complete an installation with less labor]," Ms. Faulkner said. "You can reduce your staff, reduce your costs." What's more, Ms. Faulkner said this could especially benefit smaller, prospective customers who were unsure if they could afford Epic because of costs associated with hiring people.

6. Second, Ms. Faulkner discussed Cosmos, a research network drawing all customers' data into one giant repository for clients to access for research purposes. Right now, given the number of patient records in Epic's platform, the data of 180 million patients — deidentified — would be in one place for analysis.

7. The last two initiatives embody a much broader and humanitarian essence of collaboration. "What are we doing to help the world?" Ms. Faulkner asked.

Epic partnered with AmericanUniversity of Beirut in Lebanon to help refugees with their healthcare. There are 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has a population of 4.5 million. Nearly one in five people living in Lebanon is a refugee. "It's very challenging to take care of refugees," Ms. Faulkner said.

Epic and AUB are planning a system in which patients in Lebanon would receive their basic health information on a thumb drive and be able to share that information with other providers and organizations in other countries.

8. On a domestic scale, Epic is launching an initiative to support federally qualified health centers. Epic will offer free licenses and maintenance to healthcare systems that supply tertiary, specialty and inpatient care to local FQHCs. For FQHCs that can't afford or are too busy to install Epic, Epic will be available to help with the installs. For health systems and hospitals that have already extended Epic to an FQHC, Ms. Faulkner said Epic will work with them to potentially reduce the cost of software maintenance.

9. Epic continues to grow year after year. Whether in terms of new clients, new countries or new initiatives, Ms. Faulkner said the company will continue to look at the past to help inform the future.

"I admire and honor what you all do," Ms. Faulkner said. "I consider it a privilege for our company to try and be helpful to you."

After speaking for slightly more than an hour, the Mad Hatter bid adieu.

"It's late, it's late, and there's a tea party I have to get to," she said.

More articles on Epic:

NYU Lutheran goes live on Epic EHR
Nebraska Medicine selects Epic's Healthy Planet population health platform
21 hospitals, health systems seeking Cerner, MEDITECH, Epic talent

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