Epic CEO Judy Faulkner: No ‘Magic Wand’ For Improving Healthcare

Epic Systems may have taken inspiration for new buildings on its corporate campus from Harry Potter, but that hasn’t imbued the company with magic powers.

Dressed in a wizard’s robes and hat, Judy Faulkner, founder and CEO of one of the largest makers of electronic health records (EHR) software, told a gathering of thousands of customers Tuesday that she and other leaders in healthcare cannot simply “wave our magical wands” and instantly overcome all of the challenges the industry currently faces.

Improving on the status quo—and thereby unlocking the potential for better patient care, cost savings, and innovation promised by a unified, or at least interoperable, EHR system—will require the ongoing collaboration of clinicians, software developers, and others to identify what needs fixing and execute the plans they make together, she said.

“We’re the wizards,” said Faulkner, whose outfit for the company’s annual Users Group Meeting was more Hogwarts Headmistress than corporate chief. “It’s just us people working together, trying to do the best we can every day to make things better.”

Founded in 1979, Verona, WI-based Epic now has more than 9,000 employees, and annual revenues of $2.5 billion. The company says on its website that 190 million people have a current medical record in Epic.

Epic develops, installs, and supports its patient records software. The company’s product line includes applications allowing users to perform tasks such as scheduling doctor appointments, documenting information on patients in clinical settings, and sending medical claims to insurers for reimbursement.

Hundreds of organizations that provide patient care use Epic’s software, and just about all of them send a group of executives and other employees to Wisconsin each year in September. An Epic spokesperson says that the company expects about 9,000 employees at health systems that use or plan to implement Epic’s software will attend UGM—the theme this year is “World of Wizards”—which runs through Thursday.

During the 50-plus minutes Faulkner was on stage Tuesday, she discussed some of the recent successes her company’s customers have had. She cited NYU Langone Health, which was awarded the prestigious HIMSS Davies award, in part for the organization’s innovative use of IT systems to coordinate patient care before and after surgery to replace a knee or hip joint. NYU Langone Health saved $16 million on joint replacement bundles, according to Epic.

Faulkner also acknowledged that Epic and its clients have work to do to improve the software and connect it to other digital tools in order to understand and care for patients better. In particular, she said Epic needs to do a better job at communicating with its customers. She said Epic has made changes to its approach for ensuring that customers know about and understand new features in various software applications, which are typically updated at least once a year.

“We’re delivering so much technology and too many people don’t know it,” she said. “We don’t think there’s good enough advertising. We need to highlight the value of new features in clear end-user terms, not in techy terms.” (It’s not clear whether the job of promoting new functionality tends to fall on the shoulders of Epic, its customers, or both parties.)

Faulkner also recalled her keynote speech at UGM a few years ago, when she asked people in the audience whether they’d like to see Epic develop a Spanish language version of MyChart, its patient portal software allowing patients to do things like view results of lab tests and request prescription refills.

“And then I asked, ‘How many of you know it’s [already] been available for four years?’” Faulkner said, describing the translated version of MyChart. “Maybe a half dozen folks raised their hands.”

She was “delighted” that a few in the audience had heard of it, but the anecdote highlighted the challenge Epic and its users face as more new features are rolled out year after year.

Apart from the lost productivity and frustration users experience as they adjust their workflows to new features, this can lead to duplicated costs. Faulkner cited instances of hospital leaders approving the purchase of a software product that does the same thing as an Epic product they’re already paying for.

“Folks, do you know what you bought from us?” she asked, rhetorically. “Before you purchase something, check out [a pamphlet that Epic provides to its clients] to see if you might already have it.”

That was just one of several things Faulkner suggested people add to the to-do lists Epic had provided to UGM attendees ahead of time.

Faulkner touched on other hot issues in the healthcare IT industry, including population health and interoperability. She said that Epic’s Care Everywhere application is used to exchange about 2 million patient records each day with Epic and non-Epic health systems. That’s about double Care Everywhere’s daily records-exchange rate a year ago, she said.

Epic plans to add new features to Care Everywhere soon, Faulkner said. For instance, if a patient’s primary health system sees in her Epic record that she’s not up to date on immunizations, the software would be able to check to see if she received immunizations at another organization that uses Epic’s software, and merge that information into her record. The company is also working to configure Care Everywhere to be able to check if a patient has already had certain types of imaging work done, to avoid duplicate procedures.

There are also new interoperability-focused features that Epic is working on but keeping mum about for now, Faulkner said.

Care Everywhere and Share Everywhere—a tool Epic recently unveiled that allows a user to share his health records with a physician who documents information on paper or using software that isn’t able to receive data from the patient’s regular care provider—will both “do more over time,” Faulkner said. “Stay tuned.”

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