Anyone who has moved around a lot can attest to the fact that going to a doctor’s appointment in a new city feels like starting with a clean slate. It can be puzzling to think that you are responsible for providing each new doctor with your own medical history. Fortunately, the digitization of medical records is an effort that is well under way and should eventually lead to the health care industry being just as digitally connected as the rest of the world.
One of the largest companies in the Electronic Health Record (EHR) space is Epic, whose whole business model is based on building a digital health record data base to create value for the health care industry. Epic currently has EHRs for 190 million patients and can connect hospitals, clinics, specialists, hospice centers, and many other players to this information. Even a patient themselves can use the MyChart app to electronically access their record . In addition to creating the software for specific hospitals and health networks, Epic also provides implementation services, training, and technical support .
As a patient, one can see the obvious upsides of convenient access and a collaborative network brought about with digital health records, but it is hard to imagine the scale of investment needed for hospitals to make this digitization change. Here in Massachusetts, Partners Healthcare is in the middle of a 2 year $1.2 Billion project to implement Epic across a network of 10 of their hospitals . During this roll out it has been essential to provide enough training and support for everyone affected by the change. Despite the support provided by Partners and Epic, hospitals expect the initial learning curve to slow down their ability to serve patients before seeing an improvement. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in anticipation of the Epic implementation, they reduced their appointment volume for several days after switching to Epic; an adjustment with an opportunity costs of $15 Million . While it may not be an easy or cheap undertaking, the hope is that better patient record access will lead to faster, more accurate care when walking into any of these hospitals.
After investing in the initial time and money to make the switch, the health care industry, from hospitals to patients, are hoping to eventually see lower costs. There are already some indications that EHR can reduce cost by reducing patient time at the hospital as described on Epic’s website: “A University of Michigan study of over 2,000 patients seen in the ED [emergency department] has shown…faster access to the information within Epic was associated with a 52 minute drop in visit time, as well as fewer repeat imaging orders and fewer admissions.”  Another opportunity is for providers to use this vast network of data to move towards value based costing which can improve quality of care and accuracy of charges for services .
In order to provide all the network benefits of having EHRs the hospitals need to all be connected to each other as well. This is an area where Epic and their competitors have drawn some criticism. The systems have differences that prevent interoperation which splits the EHR network and limits its capability to succeed . In the private sector, the implementation of these EHR systems is considered “a strategic resource”  and critics believe that Epic is purposefully preventing the ability to share data between competitor systems .
Epic needs to realize that their value proposition to their customers becomes less valuable if they are not willing to connect their database with those of competitors’. Although Epic may be hesitant to work with competitors, their next step must be to find and execute a connection between the various EHR systems to create a complete network. If they can find a way to connect the patient data without compromising their system features they should see a higher willingness to adapt Epic across hospitals and health networks which will be a real growth opportunity for them. More adaptations will lead to an even larger network which will drive the cycle of the remaining hospitals wanting to adapt to EHR as well.
Epic is certainly providing value and improvements to the health care industry by offering these digitization and network creation services, but it is now up to them to put the importance of a comprehensive network at the top of their priority list.
- Epic Systems Corporation, http://www.epic.com/about , accessed November 2016.
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