Lordy, lordy, Epic is 40!

The presentation evoked memories of disco. The CEO, who goes back a bit further than the company she founded in 1979, evoked memories of Woodstock. But the fundamental message from Epic’s annual Users Group Meeting was that innovation is both timeless and relentless.

I’m old enough to remember 1979, the year Epic was founded. While disco, especially the artistry of the Bee Gees, was an ever-present theme as Epic employees cleverly used the music of that day to extoll the virtues of new product innovation, that particular “artform” was mercifully falling out of favor when Judy Faulkner launched perhaps the greatest business success story in Wisconsin history.

Faulkner, delivering her annual executive address in an outfit that would have fit in quite nicely at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury, admitted to being more of a child of the 1960s than a 1970s kid. She might not have been going to San Francisco, but her remarkable electronic medical records company is still going places, primarily because of its relentless commitment to innovation. It’s not really “hippie,” just hip to the need for patient-centered thinking in everything it does.

Cool stuff

When you think about Epic’s history it’s remarkable to realize that thousands of representatives of hospitals, clinics, and entire health systems came from all over the country to hear about new ways that EMRs can help curtail hospital readmissions, bring about price transparency, and help doctors become more efficient. But to think they now hold the UGM in a setting like the Deep Space Auditorium, which was built right smack dab in the middle of what used to be, and still sort of is, farm country, and you begin to fully understand the odyssey Faulkner has been on.

In her state-of-the-Epic address, she talked about the company’s evolution and the marriage of computer science and medicine, about overcoming barriers like the lack of interoperability between EMR systems, and the many ways in which Epic keeps driving to make electronic patient records available here, there, and everywhere. Right on cue, Paul McCartney’s voice and his famous recording of the song of that same title magnified the point.

It was quite a production, both entertaining and informative, and the employees on this journey with Faulkner did their part. While the audience was enjoying little skits that the cast of Saturday Night Live would be proud of, the basic point was not lost. From the introduction of graphic user interfaces on medical records to the fact that two-thirds of Epic’s existing customers came on board after the concept of meaningful use was introduced, you got a sense of why the company has been one of the rare survivors in an industry that’s often proven to be too tough even for tech giants like Google and Microsoft.

Faulkner pointed out, matter-of-factly, that Google got in and then got out of EMRs, and she also referenced the pending shut down of Microsoft’s HealthVault. Nothing snarky, but you could not fault her for saying: “Not as easy as it looks, is it kids?”

The fact that Epic keeps innovating with products like Cosmos, which has been developed to make available the most up-to-date, evidence-based medicine to doctors and nurses at the touch of their fingertips, is crucial to its success. Most consumers probably assume that such information is already available to guide the decisions of everyone who is practicing medicine, but sadly there is still a long way to go. Of all the points that illustrate why Epic will continue to be a relevant problem solver over the next 40 years, this might be the most important.

Or maybe it’s the voice-recognition technology that someday could help doctors become more efficient when managing patient notes and other record management requirements that currently take time away from doctor-patient interactions. Epic will need a little more understanding from federal regulators to drive that point home, but at least help is on the way.

Speaking of which, Faulkner encouraged UGM attendees to stay abreast of federal regulations because they do have a role in identifying potential problems before the rules and regs become final. When there is the potential for million-dollar fines, they better pay attention to the “conundrums” Epic has spotted with a recent rule proposed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, or ONC for short. Better to involve yourself in the rule-writing process now, before it’s too late.

As Faulkner noted, no paper system could possibly manage the rising complexity of health care, so with regard to the increasing reliance on electronic medical records, there is no turning back. While she’s adamant that regulators should place more trust in the professionalism of physicians, she notes that health-care systems also should be more diligent about fixing their processes and taking full advantage of the electronic tools available to them.

All of which could bring a summer of peace and love to a heavily regulated industry. Forty years after Epic’s founding and 50 years after Woodstock was staged on a dairy farm in upstate New York, a starkly different gathering is taking place on a Verona campus amid its own pastoral scenes. Epic’s 2019 User Group Meeting is just a bit more high-tech than the one that marked a rite of passage for baby boomers — and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin are sadly nowhere to be found — but this one promises more ongoing enlightenment.

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