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Epic EHR Patient Portal Gets Interoperability Makeover, CEO Says

Epic Systems CEO Judy Faulkner talks interoperability, patient portals, and the critical importance of patient-centered healthcare.

- The annual HIMSS Conference and Exhibition may be best known for bringing together tens of thousands of excited health IT experts with big data and ambitious new innovations on their minds, but the real heart of the largest gathering of healthcare professions in the country is actually very small and very personal.

Patient portals and EHR interoperability

After downing an ocean of hot coffee, walking untold miles through carpeted corridors, and shaking hands with a dizzying number of new acquaintances, it becomes very clear that the swarms of attendees from all across the country are all trying to answer one very simple question.

How can each clinician best serve the individual patient sitting in front of him or her at any given moment?

The founder and CEO of Epic Systems, Judy Faulkner, is in an excellent position to help answer that fundamental query. 

With more than three decades of experience as a pioneering force in the electronic health records industry, Faulkner’s view from the top has helped her see one thing very clearly: there is nothing more important than keeping patients at the center of every discussion about clinical care.

READ MORE: Epic EHR Interoperability at Center of New Partnership

While the company is not typically known for being chatty with press and other observers, Faulkner sat down with EHRintelligence.com at HIMSS16 last week to clear up some basic misunderstandings about how the company operates, and to talk about the importance of an update to the MyChart patient portal that helps paint a full portrait of a patient’s current activities across the care continuum.

EHR-to-EHR interoperability may be a hot topic for industry insiders, as value-based reimbursement and regulatory requirements push healthcare organizations into developing capabilities for increased data sharing, but helping patients reliably access their own information for informed decision-making is an equally daunting challenge – and one that Epic is proud to be taking on. 

“If someone asks me on an airplane or in another city what I do, I ask them if they use a patient portal,” Faulkner said.  “When they say yes, I say, ‘that’s what I do.’”

View the 10 Biggest Epic EHR Implementations in United States

Promoting patient engagement and patient data access is central to Epic’s technology strategy, she added.  The MyChart portal, already a popular tool, now allows deeper integration across providers, so that patients get a comprehensive view of their basic information, including medications, upcoming appointments, allergies, and problems.

READ MORE: Will Carequality Lead EHR Vendors to EHR Interoperability?

“In the past, if you had two MyCharts from two different Epic providers, you’ve had two different MyCharts,” Faulkner explained.  “You can use a single sign-on for them, but the charts have been separate.  And if you have another vendor’s patient portal, you have three different portals, and so on.”

“We have now changed MyChart so that everything is all together no matter how many iterations of the portal you have – or if you have a portal from other vendors,” she announced.  “So you, as the patient, can see all your appointments, no matter where they’re from, and all your meds and everything else all together, which is very neat.”

All the providers caring for the patient will see the same thing, Faulkner added, which will help clinicians treat individuals more effectively while equipping them with the tools they need to truly dive into population health management.

“We started this because of population health,” Faulkner said, pointing to a pin on her shoulder reading “Happy Together,” a reference to Epic’s initiative to bring interoperability and patient management into closer alignment using the company’s technology suite. 

“We thought, ‘Well, why would you just do it for population health?  Why wouldn’t you do it from the patient’s point of view?  For the individual doctor caring for that patient and for the affiliates?”

READ MORE: New EHR Interoperability Framework Touted as Game-Changer

Reaching those individuals, both clinicians and consumers, is key to helping patients take control of their own health.  “Patients don’t see us as Epic, but they do see us as MyChart,” she said.  “Just the other day, I was taking to a woman who moved from one city to another, and she told me that she was only looking for a new provider who uses Epic.  I asked why, and she said, ‘MyChart.’  I hear that a lot.”

The company may enjoy a positive reputation among patients, and it consistently earns top marks from ranking organizations for its long list of technology offerings.  But it might not have always done such a stellar job of helping providers feel as if they are in charge of all the data they need to provide effective care. 

Driven by fierce competition in the industry, an insatiable rumor mill, a series of contentious Congressional hearings, and even some plain old misinformation about the breadth and depth of its data sharing activities, Epic has been made into an interoperability villain – a characterization that Faulkner insists is completely unjust.

“We do about 26 million patient interoperability exchanges – that’s not the same thing as queries – every month,” she stated.  “So that means when I go to another doctor’s office, my record goes over.”

“If it’s Epic-to-Epic, we’ve connected everyone.  If it’s Epic-to-non-Epic, we do it any time they have a C-CDA available, because technically speaking, it’s the same thing.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Allscripts or athenahealth or anyone.  We can do that just about as easily as we can do it with our own software.”

“I think that we do, by far, the most interoperability that any group does, and it should be reported so that others can see how much interoperability there truly is.  Right now, it’s hidden, and there’s nothing but innuendos about it.”

As for the infamous specter of data blocking, dragged into the light by an April 2015 report by the ONC, Faulkner seemed genuinely surprised that stakeholders are so concerned about what she views as a non-issue.

“Up until this morning, I would have said I have not seen data blocking,” she said.  “We don’t do data blocking.  We have not worked with a vendor who does data blocking.”

When asked what changed that morning, she nodded towards her “Happy Together” pin again.   “I think we’ve had two or three people tell us – two customers and one vendor – that the other vendors are not anxious to send their data over for the patient to share,” she said.  “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that.”

And she doesn’t believe that the attitude will stick.  “I think that’s something we’ll get over, too,” she shrugged. “It might just be an initial reaction to a new way of doing things.”

The vendor community already understands the importance of interoperability, she continued, both patient-facing and provider-centric.  Epic’s peers and competitors are already committed to free and open data sharing, and the HHS announcement that showcased the industry’s commitment to three core principles of interoperability was simply much ado about old news.  

“It’s not a new thing at all,” Faulkner said.  “They got a bunch of the CEOs together in a meeting, and we pretty much all knew that we had already committed to these things already.  It’s nice to have officially unveiled it, but it’s what everyone is already planning to do, which is the right thing to do: sending the data wherever the patient goes.”

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