Epic Fail, Digitizing America’s medical records

Epic Fail, Digitizing America’s medical records

Digitizing America’s medical records was supposed to help patients and save money. Why hasn’t that happened?

Nestled in the gently rolling hills of Verona, Wisconsin, a small Madison suburb, is the 1,000-acre “Intergalactic Headquarters” of Epic Systems, the multibillion-dollar company that claims its software manages medical records for 179 million Americans—or 56 percent of the country. Epic’s HQ features a conference room tucked in a tree house. There’s a Dungeons & Dragons-themed building with a moat and a replica drawbridge. One corridor is modeled to resemble a New York City subway car, complete with a statue of a homeless guy asleep on a bench. A group of Harry Potter-inspired office buildings dubbed the “Wizards Academy” is currently under construction.

Judith Faulkner, Epic’s 72-year-old founder and one of just 18 women on Forbeslist of self-made billionaires, often dresses in costume (Lucille Ball, a Hogwarts wizard) at the company’s annual meeting, which draws thousands of hospital executives and IT officers to the company’s 11,400-seat Deep Space Auditorium. Her motto: “Do good. Have fun. Make money.”

She’s solid on the second two points. Thanks to the White House’s stimulus-era initiative to bring the health care industry into the digital age, her company has grown into the country’s leading vendor of software in the $9.3 billion electronic health records (EHR) sector. Epic pulled in $1.8 billion in 2014 and is expanding at a rate of about 1,000 new employees a year. Kaiser Permanente, CVS’s Minute Clinics, Johns Hopkins, and Mount Sinai all use Epic.

But instead of ushering in a new age of secure and easily accessible medical files, Epic has helped create a fragmented system that leaves doctors unable to trade information across practices or hospitals. That hurts patients who can’t be assured that their records—drug allergies, test results, X-rays—will be available to the doctors who need to see them. This is especially important for patients with lengthy and complicated health histories. But it also means we’re all missing out on the kind of system-wide savings that President Barack Obama predicted nearly seven years ago, when the federal government poured billions of dollars into digitizing the country’s medical records.

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