Epic Wants to Be Known for Interoperability – Are They Interoperable?

Epic has been fighting the stigma of being a closed system for a while now. It seems that Epic isn’t happy about this characterization and they’re coming out guns blazing to try and show how Epic is interoperable. They’re so interested in changing this perception that Epic recently hired a lobbyist to change how they’re viewed by the people in DC.

A recent tweet highlighted a slide from the Epic user conference (Epic UGM) that shows how many Epic patient records they’re exchanging per month. Here’s the tweet and graph below:

Farzad Mostashari asks a very good question, “Does that graph help?” I find Farzad’s tweet also interesting because just over a year ago Farzad tweeted another Epic interoperability chart when he was still National Coordinator at ONC. I’ll embed the previous chart below so you can easily compare the two graphs side by side:
Epic Data Sharing Chart

I think Farzad is right to be skeptical about Epic’s claims to interoperability. First, it seems Epic is finally making some progress with Epic to Epic interoperability, but Epic to Non-Epic systems is still far behind. Second, Epic loves to claim how they have charts for some huge percentage of the US population (currently about 314 million people). I bet if we looked at the percentage of total Epic charts that have been exchanged, it would be an extremely small number. I also wonder if the charts above count a full patient chart or something simple like a lab result or prescription.

I don’t want to harp on this too much, because this is a step forward for Epic. Even if they’re not as interoperable as they could be and as we’d like them to be, I’m excited that they’re now at least open to the idea of interoperability.

With that said, I wish that Epic would spend more time and effort on actually being interoperable and not just trying to say that they’re interoperable. This includes committing the resources required to support connections outside of Epic. I’ve heard over and over from health IT vendor after health IT vendor about how hard it is to get Epic to work with them in any form or fashion. There’s a way that Epic could scale their effort to hundreds of other health IT vendors, but they haven’t made the commitment to do so.

Think about the opportunity that Epic has available to them. They have enough scale, reach and clout that they could by force of size establish a standard for interoperability. Many health IT vendors would bend over backwards to meet whatever standard Epic chose. That’s a powerful position to be in if they would just embrace it. I imagine the reason they haven’t done so yet is because the market’s never demanded it. Sometimes companies like Epic need to embrace something even if it doesn’t drive short term sales. I think this is one of those choices Epic should make.

I’m sure that lobbyists can be an effective solution to change perceptions in Washington. However, a far more effective strategy would be to actually fully embrace interoperability at every level. If they did so, you can be sure that every news outlet would be more than excited to write about the change.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • I was one first to implement Epic’s Epic to Epic interoperability functionality 5+ years ago. While you seem quick to dismiss this work I can tell you unequivocably that patient care in the region I live been improved by Epic’s interoperability functionality. The very first case was not from a neighboring health system but from a group over 2000 miles away. Since that first transaction there have been millions to follow improving care in every setting while reducing costs. The Epic to non-Epic is on the same trajectory. While I have worked with Epic as a vendor for many years, I have also been seen many other EHR systems. I honesty have not seen any better interoperability, even from vendors who claim to live in the interoperability space. From my view the reason Epic hired a lobbyist is because people like you without a true understanding of what is possible today are choosing to post posts like this that do not fairly review the industry as a whole, but single out Epic. The industry has to continue to move forward rapidly on improved interoperability, but in my opinion choosing to continue to paint a skewed and uninformed view on Epic does not help promote a productive conversation. We are at a pivotal point and we need to push all aspects from government, vendors and healthcare providers to use technology to improve both the cost and quality of care. Let’s elevate the conversation and partner with our vendors to move forward, then we can spend our time on new development vs lobbyists.

  • TL,
    Thanks for your comment. The benefits that you describe in your region are exactly why Epic should focus on more interoperability. You’ve seen the benefits. Now we need them to apply it across the healthcare system.

    You can be sure I don’t just harp on Epic for this. For example, see this article where I called out many of the others for being just as “closed” as Epic: http://www.hospitalemrandehr.com/2014/09/04/why-dont-we-hear-more-from-epic-cerner-or-meditech/ This article just focused on Epic because of their efforts to try and say they’re interoperable. You can sure I’ll be calling out the others in the future as well.

    I think the best way to elevate the conversation is to hold these vendors accountable for the choices their making (or not making).

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