Epic defends its interoperability at Senate hearing

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing March 17 discussing EHRs and meaningful use with four panelists representing different stakeholders in the industry.

Peter DeVault, director of interoperability at Verona, Wis.-based Epic Systems, was the panelist representing vendors, and much of his testimony revolved around the IT giant's commitment and progress in interoperability. Epic has long been questioned and criticized for its lack of interoperability, not excluding this very committee hearing.

Another panelist, Julia Adler-Milstein, PhD, assistant professor of health management and policy at the Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan School of Public Health, said in her testimony, "EHR vendors do not have a business case for seamless, affordable interoperability across vendor platforms." The comment wasn't necessarily directed at Epic, as vendor-based interoperability, or lack thereof, has been a subject of debate in the health IT industry as of late.

In Mr. DeVault's written testimony for the hearing, he outlined Epic's contributions to furthering interoperability. "There's been a lot of focus on the need for interoperable EHRs over the last couple of years, and a lot of confusion and misinformation in terms of what Epic's software will support."

He continued, "Epic does not own or claim rights to our customers' patient data. We do not interfere with their ability to access patient data and we do not re-sell patient data. We give our customers access to our source code and developer support. We also provide tools that support the free flow of information between different system [sic] and different organizations."

Epic, according to Mr. DeVault, has exchanged more electronic records and patient data through its Care Everywhere record exchange platform than any other vendor. He said more than 1,000 hospitals and 26,000 clinics are live on Care Everywhere, and they exchanged 8.5 million patient records last month. He also noted Care Everywhere launched in 2005, four years before the HITECH Act was enacted.

During the hearing, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), a member of the committee, asked Mr. DeVault why Epic was not a member of CommonWell Health Alliance, a group of health IT vendors seeking to foster interoperability and data exchange between health systems. Member organizations include Cerner, Allscripts, athenahealth and McKesson, a handful of Epic's direct competitors.

Mr. DeVault said CommonWell was an "aspiring" network which is costly to achieve. Additionally, he said Epic would be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement if the company joined CommonWell. Requiring such an agreement, Mr. DeVault said, suggests CommonWell intends to sell data downstream, according to Healthcare-Informatics.

Cerner issued a statement in response to Mr. DeVault's comments about CommonWell saying, "Today's rhetoric is a slap in the face to many parties working to advance interoperability. It was discouraging to hear more potshots and false statements when it's clear there is real work to be done. We're committed to CommonWell as a practical, market-led way to achieve meaningful interoperability."

The hearing lasted for approximately one hour and 45 minutes. The other two panelists at the hearing were Robert Wergin, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and Angela Kennedy, EdD, head of the Department of Health Informatics and Information Management at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston.

To watch the full hearing, click here.

More articles on interoperability:

Nurses say interoperability failures affect patient care
Two bills scrutinize healthcare spending transparency, interoperability
Epic president hints toward interoperability initiatives


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