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Is Epic any different than other software vendors?

November 24, 2008
by Suresh Gunasekaran
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Like many other healthcare organizations around the country, my healthcare organization has made implementation of information systems a major strategic priority. To that end, we have effectively pursued a single-vendor strategy over the last several years with Epic Systems as that single vendor. Our single vendor strategy is partially the product of our executives preferring that there is value from all of our systems being “pre-integrated” and partially the product of the success that we’ve had with Epic Systems.

As a former Gartner analyst, I’ve watched the industry for many years and seen many vendors gain and lose market share. In the late 1980’s, SMS (now Siemens) and HBOC (now McKesson) solidified their market share as the major hospital systems players as Meditech established itself as the solution for the masses. Throughout the 1990’s, Cerner and Eclypsis gained tremendous momentum in the clinical space, and ultimately delivered their Millennium and Sunrise suites which were greeted with much sales success. Each of these vendors, during their time, was much hyped and promised to be the single vendor of choice for the future.

Although all of these vendors and their customers enjoy success today, Epic Systems has shifted to the forefront of the buzz, and is most often cited as the one-stop shop of the future. I think this is because Epic has been better at going from the Ambulatory to Inpatient product sphere gracefully, where many of the others have not been able to go the reverse routed without many failed promises.

Let me put my biases on the table. We’ve invested millions of dollars in Epic products. My career is definitely enhanced through the continued success of our Epic partnership. This is now the second organization in which I’ve used Epic products. However, to be candid, the Epic bet was placed on the table before I took my present job 4 years ago. My job was to make the bet pay off.

I still believe today that a single vendor solution is limited at the current state of product development. I would have preferred a core clinical systems vendor and a separate revenue cycle systems vendor. Our organization budget and management team would never have allowed me to pursue that direction with my current organization. As CIO, my job is to deal in realities first, and possibilities second (especially in the middle of a financial turnaround).

That being said, I’m often asked (and I ask myself), what makes Epic different from the market leaders in the past? There are no simple answers…

1. Their products work. For the most part, Epic’s greatest strength is fundamentally sound engineering. Their marketing never goes further than their product capabilities. Anything that is released works. The history of this industry is littered with systems that have been released before their maturity.

2. Youth is served. The average age of the Epic employee has to be lower than any other major IT vendor. That is good because this staff is very intelligent, knowledgeable on their products, hard working, committed to drinking “the Kool-Aid,” and for the most part fearless. That is bad because many of the staff seem green at the beginning of installs, don’t “click” with lifelong nurses, and lack some of the people facilitation skills that are necessary for organizational change that is necessary with any major system install.

3. Verona is the center of the universe. First off, the staff is excessively proud of the headquarters campus (with the kind of exuberance that .com employees used to rave about their offices in the Valley). On a serious note, the campus is an interesting metaphor for Epic’s approach to their business and their customers. First, they have only one office in the country and all of their employees are there: their attempt to have one culture and one tight-knit company (a little tough with all of their employees). Second, they bring all of their customers there for all training sessions and user group meetings: a sincere attempt to connect your customers to your company, but also a reminder that the convenience factor for the company comes before the convenience of customers (still no regional training centers).

4. It’s functional, but it ain’t pretty. The product has always been very functional and the emphasis of the products continues to be on getting the work done (a good thing). However, for most Epic users, who use the internet and computers regularly, the Epic screens have to be the ugliest, most crowded screens they will see (sorry Carl). Ok, maybe they are not that bad, but I do get asked way too often whether Epic makes money per mouse click off of us (lots of clicks).

5. Honest, trustworthy people. It must be Midwestern nice manners. Or the fact that the executives are genuine, down-to-earth people. Or that the average 20-something is very polite and well mannered these days. Overall, the folks from Epic are the type of people that you like doing business with, and can trust to be true to their commitments. They aren’t going to score any style points (their on-site presentations are very bland), but they score well on substance and sincerity.

The history of Epic Systems is adding a new chapter. The title of this chapter will be determined by whether customers like me are able to truly find value from having all of this in one system, or whether we will be judged harshly for having the 2nd best of every module in the market for the sake of having it all open from the same one icon.

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