With New Software, Epic Aims to Help Patients Share Health Records

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Epic Systems has long used a slogan to describe its software, which hundreds of hospitals and clinics across the globe use to manage their patients’ health records: “with the patient at the heart.”

Verona, WI-based Epic is backing up that credo with a new program that would allow the 190 million people who have a current electronic medical record in Epic to share their health data with providers who document patient information on paper or using software that isn’t able to receive records from the patient’s regular care provider. The move comes amid industry discussions about how health data is shared and who should control the flow of information.

Share Everywhere, which Epic unveiled Wednesday, is designed to put patients in control of their medical records. A patient can give any healthcare provider with an Internet connection access to her health data, Epic says. This spares the patient from lugging around stacks of paper records if he or she is seeing a specialty physician for the first time. Or, if patients are traveling, they would be able to provide their Epic chart to local doctors, who would have the benefit of not starting from scratch in determining a treatment plan.

“Patients should be able to easily share their health information with anyone they choose, no matter where they are,” says Janet Campbell, Epic’s vice president of patient engagement, in a prepared statement.

Share Everywhere is a new feature within MyChart, Epic’s free, patient-facing software that lets people use computers and mobile devices to do things like view test results, request prescription refills, and securely send written messages to their primary care physicians. Just about any adult who receives care at a healthcare organization that uses Epic’s software can sign up for a MyChart account.

According to a Modern Healthcare report, Share Everywhere works by generating a unique code within MyChart. Clinicians then enter the code into a website and download information about the patient’s allergies, medications, and health issues, among other data.

Additionally, Epic says, “a provider granted access can send a progress note back to the patient’s healthcare organization,” so that doctors there can review details of the patient’s visit or hospital stay at the other provider’s facility.

Epic customers that license the MyChart application will be able to start using Share Everywhere in November, and it won’t cost them anything extra, Epic says.

The new software is relevant to current discussions about who owns patients’ data. Epic could point to Share Everywhere, which is designed to let patients decide who gets access to their records, to argue that it is patients—rather than a hospital or software company—who own their health data.

A Politico report last month detailed a tense exchange between former Vice President Joe Biden and Judy Faulkner, Epic’s founder and CEO, at a meeting in January. Biden reportedly expressed frustration at Faulkner’s argument that it doesn’t make sense to change how health records are formatted so that patients can easily understand all the medical jargon and other information in them. (One issue is how much data patients really need to digest to make decisions.)

Following the Politico report, Epic attempted to downplay the incident, saying in a statement that Biden “was consistently polite and positive to every person, including every vendor, in the meeting.”

U.S. law makes it clear that patients should be able to obtain their own health data and share them with other parties.

The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, which was signed into law in 2009 as part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, created a program known as Meaningful Use. The program’s creation was aimed in part at incentivizing hospitals to switch from paper to digital record-keeping. One provision within Meaningful Use is that patients should have “the ability to view online, download, and transmit their health information.”

Epic has done a significant amount of work to ensure its clients meet Meaningful Use requirements, which were set up to become stricter over time. The dust-up between Biden and Faulkner reportedly stemmed from an objective within the 21st Century Cures Act that patient records have a “single, longitudinal format that is easy to understand.”

Epic has also been dinged publicly on the grounds that its software could be improved in terms of “interoperability,” a term that refers to the ability for health data to flow seamlessly between healthcare providers (no matter which vendor’s records software they use), and to and from outside applications.

In 2013, Kansas City, MO-based Cerner (NASDAQ: CERN), Watertown, MA-based Athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN), and five of their peers formed CommonWell Health Alliance. According to the association’s website, its goal is “to drive forward ubiquitous interoperability.”

Noticeably absent from CommonWell is Epic, which belongs to Carequality, another vendor collective. The two bodies essentially share the same goal: make it easier for healthcare providers in the U.S. to exchange patient data.

But certain vendors do not appear to be interested in joining every alliance. During a panel discussion two years ago, Cerner vice president of interoperability Bob Robke invited Epic to join CommonWell, saying the company’s participation would “guarantee” the success of CommonWell. So far, Epic has decided against doing so.

Epic, for its part, touts its Care Everywhere application, which the company says is used to exchange 2 million patient records each day with Epic and non-Epic health systems. Last month, Epic posted a graphic on its website that claimed Care Everywhere has been used to retrieve 3.6 billion documents since 2014, compared to 57,400 documents for CommonWell. (CommonWell is set up as a separate health information exchange, meaning this total presumably does not include documents sent directly from one health system that uses a CommonWell member’s records software to another.)

Epic Systems says its Care Everywhere software far outpaces the CommonWell Health Alliance, a collective several Epic competitors established in 2013, in terms of the volume of patient information hospitals and clinics are exchanging.

“Care Everywhere exchanges every 12 minutes what CommonWell exchanges in a lifetime,” the line below the graphic read.

By adding Share Everywhere to MyChart, Epic seems to be signaling that it sees value in putting health records within closer reach of patients and providers. But it’s unlikely that outside criticism of the company, which has come from physicians, politicians, and (not surprisingly) competing software vendors, will abate anytime soon.