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Behind the Curtain

May 29, 2008
by Mark Hagland
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Epic's unwavering commitment to its unique values has created an unusual recipe for success. What's behind Epic's gains in the clinical IT sphere?

“Look,” Faulkner says, “we've got 3,000 people here. We've got too much going on for one person to make all the decisions,” citing a recent example of her not being informed of whether the company would use a Java-based or dot-net approach to going onto the Web (see sidebar below for more on that development). “But,” she adds, “I've always said that the role of the CEO is to make sure the company does the right thing. I can't imagine going to the board and saying, ‘Well, I thought this one thing was right, but the vote went the other way.’ It's like with children — as a parent, you're going to be responsible if your child runs into traffic, aren't you?”

Indeed, Faulkner has succeeded in creating an organization and a culture that reflects her to an exceptional degree. All of Epic's most distinguishing characteristics come out of her thoughts and early development work for the company, including:

  • the decision to eschew virtually all direct advertising and most marketing, with the notable exception of participation in the annual HIMSS Conference, as well as participation in one or two other conferences a year;

  • the decision to avoid hiring implementation specialists with significant healthcare experience, instead training Epic's own corps of young people and molding them to the organization's corporate culture;

  • the requirement that customer organizations have their IS staffs become certified in the understanding of Epic's products;

  • the strategy to never acquire other companies, but instead grow through internal development over time, a strategy that has been consistent from the company's inception;

  • the determination to remain privately held;

  • the uncommon strategy of regularly turning away business.

Dave Garets

Dave Garets

Faulkner has clearly been successful in creating a unified corporate culture. Speaking with Epic executives, one has an almost eerie sense of the exceptional degree to which Epic people tend to think similar thoughts. Perhaps not surprisingly, Faulkner remains sensitive to the frequent descriptions of the company as a “cult,” and continually emphasizes the diversity of opinions involved in establishing the company's direction. “It's more like we're rowing in the same direction instead of many directions,” she says and laughs. “We don't hold hands and sing ‘Kumbayah.’”

A formidable mystique

Still, despite Faulkner's protestations, the unified quality of thought and action under her at Epic, and the unusual set of corporate characteristics cited above, only add to the formidable mystique that has evolved around the company. Certainly, the other largest clinical vendors have their own auras: Atlanta-based McKesson Corporation has a reputation as an acquisitive behemoth that eats other companies for breakfast, and has grown huge as a result; Malvern, Pa.-based Siemens Medical Solutions has a special glamour, being European-owned and with imposing modality and software divisions; and Kansas City, Mo.-based Cerner Corporation has highly regarded core clinical products and a charismatic CEO. But none of those corporations has the singular identity that Epic does. And whether senior Epic executives admit it or not, industry observers agree that having a special mystique encourages sales.

With regard to the founder/CEO's vision for her company and how it has played out, one need only look at two interrelated strategies above all: the determination to remain private and the regular habit of turning business away.

“I always liked the philosophy that if you're making the kind of money you want to make, and you don't have to give up the ghost to get it, that's a great idea,” says Scott Grier, a director at the Nashville.-based Abrio Consulting. “In the old days, when Neal was having to go public and others were already pu blic,” he says, referring to Cerner's Neal Patterson, “the only way they could grow was through acquisition. And acquisitions are very expensive. But because Judy chooses to keep her head down and keep focused on the product, she doesn't have to turn to people for money. And her company being privately held, she has the luxury of turning away poor-prospect customers in a way that publicly held companies never could.”

Dave Garets, president of HIMSS Analytics, the data analysis division of HIMSS, echoes this analysis. “I agree, and that's why Judy's been successful,” he says. “It's a brilliant strategy, it's very simple. But it takes a lot of courage, quite frankly, to turn down potentially millions of dollars.”

The strategy to rigorously sift through potential customers and not sign all of them — a strategy that results in what could potentially be sub-optimal growth — conversely optimizes customer satisfaction, which has become Epic's calling card in the market.

Asked what makes Epic different, Melinda Costin, vice president of applications at the Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System, says, “Their attention to their customer is their outstanding characteristic. Now, this is easy for them because they're privately held,” adds Costin, who ran the Epic implementation practice at the former HealthLink (now part of the Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences).
Gerry Bartley

Gerry Bartley




hmmmmmmm.....are we sure you're not talking about MEDITECH?? these two "cults" sure are mighty identical.....

Having worked with the Epic software for a number of years, this is an accurate representation of my experience with Epic and their employees. The beauty of Epic has been the ability to "personalize" the product, as mentioned. My recent concerns have been with the implementation of their Model System, some of the personalization may be lost, and customers will be pushed to implement the Model System, as is. I am nurse who does Epic consulting work. I've noticed that hospitals who chose to use the Model System don't seem to know the application as well as they did prior to the Model System being offered. Granted, the Model System provides the client with a "starter set," but my recent experience with Epic employees is that they present the Model System as the only way to go. Workflows documentation, both current and future state, were key in determining the build when I began working with the Epic product. Recently I've heard Epic employees say that workflow analysis is not important, which concerns me a great deal. While Epic does hire the best and the brightest, I've been frustrated by several experiences with Epic employees who have never stepped foot inside of a hospital, and therefore have no idea how things operate, but present like they do, which is misleading to customers. I frequently remind customers that their implementation is their implementation and not Epic's and that they can push back if something doesn't feel right to them. I worked closely with an Epic Application Manager at one point who saw the value that consultants can bring to Epic implementations. She acknowledged that she didn't have hospital operations experience, but recognized that I did, and wasn't threatened by me or my knowledge. I, by no means had the software knowledge that she had either, but working together we were a great team. It was one of the best experiences that I have had with an Epic implementation. I valued her expertise and vice versa. Epic has always gone the distance in making sure that the customer gets what they need.

Nice looking campus.

Obviously the Epic culture works...working with their product and in the industry, I only have high regard for them. Other employers could learn a lot from their corporate is a relaxed environment of talented people who are empowered to be creative and to work to their full potential. They utilize young talent who know the meaning of "cutting edge" and have the "I can do anything" attitude. When you visit the campus you just say, "wow-I wish my company was like this." Who wouldn't like a sunroom and fireplace to help them feel more productive? And there is plenty of brain food with the large offering of organic and health food available on the "green" campus...they take care of their world, employees, and clients while making money doing it. I would say that should be a lesson learned for all.

whats that all about?
care to explain?
i'd be curious.