'No margin, no mission': How Northwell CIO Sophy Lu approaches the Epic installation

Northwell Health CIO Sophy Lu told Becker's that the New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based health system's Epic installation process is a 'leap into the future.'

The health system announced it was switching from Allscripts to Epic in March 2023. Becker's caught up with Ms. Lu to learn how the implementation process is going and how she is working to keep it cost-effective.

Question: Do you have any updates on how the Epic installation process is going so far?

Sophy Lu: Things are going very well. We kicked off our Epic implementation process last week. We had 100 days of work leading up to that just to get ourselves organized. Along with the Epic transformation, we have a lot of things we are working on to modernize our footprint. We are trying to organize ourselves so we don't lose momentum with all the different work and resources.

Q: How do you ensure that the EHR implementation process isn't too costly?

SL: We put a lot of thought into the strategies and work we are doing at Northwell. The EHR is expensive and a huge investment, but it is necessary. Overall, you look at an integrated system like Northwell and how fast it is growing and evolving; the amount of effort and time it takes to standardize and integrate with a system of this size is also costly. The time was ripe for us to evaluate our EHR foundation so that we could simplify not only the technology footprint but also take into consideration what we can accomplish with an integrated system. We looked at this not only from our team members' perspective but also how we can deliver better care for our patients. Ultimately, all of this leads to better care and delivery and then also an easier way to bill and collect. We see it as 'no margin, no mission.' We don't drive ourselves to deliver care based on revenue, but it is an important piece of the business. The investment is significant, but the outcomes that you get out of it is also significant. It leaps you into the future and allows you to do different things because now your building blocks are set to integrate on top. 

Q: So you view the EHR implementation as a long-term investment?

SL: Correct. It is a proven technology. It has been used in most of the large integrated health systems in the country. The product is investing back into itself through research and development. The way we see it, 30 percent is invested back into R&D for the company.

Q: How are you working with the team at Epic?

SL: Even at the beginning of the relationship, it has been a very good one. Their methodology is very prescriptive and proven. We are leaping off of that to work with them to use best practices and what they call foundation. We can configure and personalize our experience without customizing the platform. We work together to complement each other in the sense that we also have the expertise in how we would operate and practice medicine. We are looking at how we use technology to enable that so we get the best out of both worlds.

Q: Will this process create new jobs at Northwell?

SL: It is already doing so. The most expensive cost of the implementation is resources. There are many ways to tackle resourcing. You have the opportunity to hire certified Epic resources or you can hire an implementation partner. At the same time you are implementing, you have to remember you are operating your business. Everything you are doing day-to-day doesn't go away. We took an approach where we definitely wanted to upscale our staff members to get certified in Epic. We are also using external resources, such as consultants. We are using them very intentionally in areas we know we can complement the implementation process. We also work with Epic themselves on the process. However, we are ensuring that the process is a Northwell-led program. We also have a significant group of clinicians working to change the workflow. It is creating new roles with different certifications and skill sets. 

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