Epic Upgrades Records-Sharing App in Bid to Improve Interoperability
Epic Systems says it’s added new features to Care Everywhere, a software application allowing the company’s 300-plus hospital and health clinic customers to share information about their patients.
About 190 million people have a current medical record in Epic, according to the Verona, WI-based business. When members of this patient population go to another hospital or clinic that uses Epic’s software, the organization can request that healthcare systems that have cared for the patients previously transmit their records via Care Everywhere.
Late Tuesday, Epic announced what it’s calling “One Virtual System Worldwide,” a framework that includes tools allowing users to take actions in other Epic clients’ records systems. The new functions are intended to help Epic users collaborate with each other.
Epic says its customers exchange more than 2.3 million patient records each day.
Critics of Epic have previously called the company’s software a “closed platform” and suggested Epic could do more to facilitate the exchange of records between organizations that use its products and ones that use software from competing vendors.
Epic says that with the new Care Everywhere features, schedulers will now be able to book referral appointments for patients at hospitals and clinics outside of their health system networks.
Another new tool is “Images Everywhere,” which allows doctors and other healthcare workers to view X-rays, CT scans, and other images taken at organizations that use Epic’s software. Checking to see if patients have already had certain types of imaging work done could help healthcare providers avoid duplicate procedures.
Epic says the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology requires that patient records software vendors be able to capture and share 56 “discrete data elements” about a patient, such as immunizations and results of laboratory tests. The Wisconsin company says its customers can share 415 discrete data elements. That includes all of the government-mandated fields, plus things like progress notes, family history, and documentation completed by obstetricians, oncologists, and other specialists.
“Over the last decade, we expanded the amount of data that customers can exchange, going well beyond industry requirements,” says Dave Fuhrmann, Epic’s vice president of interoperability, in a prepared statement. The new Care Everywhere features “will allow clinicians to work across Epic organizations to improve the care for their patients,” he adds.
Another category of data elements Epic says its clients can share with one another is “social determinants” of health, which includes information such as levels of education and physical activity, alcohol use, and whether someone is experiencing personal or financial stress.
Judy Faulkner, who founded Epic in 1979 and leads the company as CEO, said at the company’s user conference in September that while the U.S. spends more on healthcare than most nations, “we don’t spend more on social care.”
“Others spend more on social care and end up with healthier people,” she said. “We won’t be able to afford to continue the way we’re doing it.”
Faulkner said the term “electronic health record” (EHR), which is often used to describe the core product sold by Epic—and competitors like Cerner (NASDAQ: CERN) and Athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN)—is “so last year.”
“I want to talk about the comprehensive health record,” Faulkner said. “We have to look at what you eat, how much sleep you get, whether you’re lonely, education … [and your] ability to care for yourself.”
Examining the social determinants of health is part of an effort by healthcare providers, with help from software programs, to “knock down the traditional walls” of the hospital and clinic, Faulkner said.
Epic is one of the country’s leading EHR software vendors but it would be an overstatement to say the company has cornered the healthcare provider market. According to a survey the research and investment firm Robert W. Baird & Co. took last March, about 21.3 percent of hospitals reported that Epic was their primary tool for managing patient records. In a separate Baird poll, from 2015, about 21.7 percent of physicians surveyed said Epic was their primary EHR system.
In the end, EHR firms acting alone may not be the ones to make their products more compatible when it comes to sharing patient records. In recent years, collectives such as Carequality (which Epic belongs to) and CommonWell (which Epic is noticeably absent from) have sprung up. While Epic has recently taken steps to put health records within closer reach of patients and providers, for now the company appears to place more value on helping its customers share data with each other than with outside organizations.