Why UPMC selected Epic for its EHR

Leaders from Pittsburgh-based UPMC told Becker's it plans to transition to Epic because the EHR can position the health system for advances in digital health and artificial intelligence.

UPMC said Sept. 5 it would consolidate its nine EHRs to one, Epic, by mid-2026. Its core EHRs are currently Oracle Cerner on the inpatient side and Epic for ambulatory care.

"This is really a technology-enabled clinical and operational transformation," said Rob Bart, MD, chief medical information officer of UPMC. "UPMC has selected a technology partner in Epic who aligns with us today in 2023. And we believe their trajectory aligns with where UPMC wants to move towards over the next many years."

The move follows a trend of big health systems moving to Epic for their EHRs. Epic, the top U.S. EHR vendor by hospital market share, is now the "top choice for large organizations" and its customers include "most of the largest, well-resourced academic medical centers in the U.S.," KLAS Research reported in May.

"Epic has shown to be the leader in this space," said Ed McCallister, senior vice president and CIO of UPMC. "We're all Epic within our six-hospital Pinnacle region, so we actually got to see firsthand the benefits of an all-Epic environment. So the decision was made to move the remainder of our business to an all-Epic environment."

UPMC is definitely a big win for Epic. The $26 billion system has 40 hospitals, spanning a large academic medical center to rural critical access hospitals, across Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and overseas.

"Epic's patient portal seems to be more mature than the other EHR vendors at this time," Dr. Bart added. "And being able to interact with patients directly via digital tools is very important to UPMC and our future."

As an integrated system with the UPMC Health Plan, Epic was also an attractive option because of its recent investments in payer-provider connectivity, McCallister said.

UPMC had so many EHRs from all the hospital acquisitions it has made over the years and also because, like many health systems, it used to follow a "best-of-breed" approach of choosing different EHRs for different functions. UPMC's other EHRs include Meditech, Paragon (now part of Altera Digital Health), the Aria oncology EHR from Varian, and Thrive from Evident.

While the leaders declined to say how much the EHR transition would cost, they expect it to pay for itself in seven years because of the cost savings and efficiencies from moving to one system.

They said the EHR consolidation will also position UPMC for technological advances such as AI. Some of the health system's EHRs were "developed at different ages within healthcare IT, and some of those platforms would have been extremely challenging to embed AI algorithms in, whether it's for efficiency or for clinical decision support," Dr. Bart said.

UPMC also wants to remove some of the tech burden on physicians so they can focus more on the human touch. It can be disruptive for providers to move between multiple EHRs. Dr. Bart said the pandemic crystallized the decision that this was something the health system simply didn't have time for anymore.

"Sometimes the best technology in the world is technology that becomes less visible," he said. "At the end of the day, care delivery is still about two people interacting, whether it's a physician and a patient or a nurse and a patient, a pharmacist and a patient, and we're trying to decrease that technology barrier, so we can have a more personal interaction between the participants."

Mr. McCallister added that regardless of the EHR vendor and software, the transition will rely on the people at UPMC to make it work.

"We have some of the best and brightest clinicians, operations folks and technologists who are going to build this Epic platform to meet the needs of our patients," he said. "Again, Epic has proven to be a leader in this space. What we do with the platform will be the more interesting and more impactful piece."

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