Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Epic Undertaking: Why a Personalized Health Record will Change the World

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Within five years, you will use an on-line health record. With the online record, you will schedule appointments, trade messages with your doctor and get prescription refills.

And that’s just the beginning. Having a robust, integrated on-line health record will cause more change in healthcare than any other single development in the past 50 years. It will open the door for widespread use of mobile health apps, telemedicine, and developments that we can’t even imagine yet.

Making this sea of change happen is a counterculture software company, called Epic, that most people outside of healthcare have never heard of. The change that Apple’s products started in the recording and publishing industries, Epic’s myChart will start in healthcare.

Sure, there are other personalized electronic health records (EHRs) now. But, what currently stands for a personalized EHR has made very little impact in how care is delivered.

For there to be real change, an EHR needs to connect the information from everywhere you get care. Also, doctors need to embrace using this on-line tool as a way to interact with patients.

The reason that personalized EHRs haven’t caught on yet is that users have to input most of the data (think of Quicken in its early days) and most doctors are understandably worried that too many of their patients will want to become on-line pen pals.

An industry that has caused so much political turmoil (“Obamacare”), been accused of wrecking the bottom lines of Fortune 500 companies (GM says it spends more on employee healthcare than steel) and represents one-sixth of our economy now stands to be changed by a somewhat eccentric, privately-held Verona, Wisconsin company. How can that be?

Epic, through the vision of its creator and CEO Judy Faulkner, has focused relentlessly for more than 30 years on having its customers successfully install and use its products. The company has been passionate about continually making its software better and pushing towards a vision of improving healthcare. Along the way, it has made a lot of money, but that seems to be more of an enabler than the goal.

Epic has no debt, no stockholders (other than employees), no overseas outsourcing (highly unusual for a technology company), and seemingly nobody to answer to, other than its customers.

All of its products – software for running the business and clinical side of physician offices, emergency departments, hospital inpatient departments, hospital outpatient departments and a growing list of other stops along the healthcare continuum – were developed by Epic. The products are built on a common technology platform and are seamlessly integrated. The patient record that the primary care physician uses in his office is the same one used by the ICU nurse in the hospital.

By contrast, most other major healthcare IT companies are publicly-held, seem distracted by the pressure of quarterly financial returns to keep investors happy, and are often cobbled together through mergers and acquisition. Their products have limited ability to share information because they aren’t developed on the same platform and, until recent federal mandates, many of these organizations did not place an emphasis on the development of technologies that would enable system-to-system integration.

At Epic’s annual user group meeting last month, Epic COO Carl Dvorak explained to more than 6,000 attendees that the company had opted not to sign a well-publicized pledge recently made by 25 healthcare providers and IT companies to improve customer engagement. The idea of asking Epic leadership to sign a pledge to advance the cause of patient engagement seems like asking New England Patriot coach Bill Belichick to take a pledge to try to win football games.

In reference to the pledge, Carl said something to the effect of, “When other companies write press releases, we write code.”

Try using a press release to check the results of blood work, taken earlier in the day at your physician’s office, on your smartphone.

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 27, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how a company like Epic views Healthcare Consumerism in general and how/how much interest they may have in guiding the evolution of local regional health/wellness “ecosystems”?

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“Hi, I’m Ed Lovern, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. I created this blog to share my thoughts on the healthcare revolution and how we can all be part of the solution. Feel free to comment or email me your thoughts – I would love to have your contributions and feedback.”
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