For quite some time now, the buzz has been that at least one EMR vendor was a safe bet for everyone involved. “No one ever got fired for choosing Epic” has begun to seem as obvious a sentiment as “No one ever got fired for choosing IBM” in hospital C-suites. And certainly, in previous times that was probably true.
But it’s beginning to look as though at least in some cases, Epic has not been as safe a choice as health execs had hoped. In fact, while it’s not exactly a fully-fledged trend, it’s worth noting that Epic-related costs and technical issues have led to job losses for hospital CIOs, as well as other operational leaders, in recent times.
Perhaps the most recent example of Epic-related job attrition took place earlier this month, when the chief information officer and chief operating officer of Denver Health Medical Center. According to the Denver Post, the two executives left their posts in the wake of major disagreements over the medical center’s big investment in an Epic EMR.
The Denver Post story reports that former Denver Health CIO Gregory Veltri was on the outs with CEO Arthur Gonzalez from the outset where Epic was concerned. Apparently, Veltri argued from the get-go that the Epic install costs — which he estimated could hit $300 million when the $70 million cost of dumping the center’s current EMR contract and doubling of its IT staff were computed — stood a chance of bankrupting the hospital. (Gonzalez, for his part, claims that the Epic installation is under budget at $170 million, and says that the system should go live in April.)
In another example of Epic-related turnover, the chief information officer at Maine Medical Center in Portland seems to have left his job at least in part due to the financial impact of the hospital’s $160 million Epic investment. Admittedly, the departure of CIO Barry Blumenfeld may also have been related to technical problems with the rollout which slowed hospital collections. This took place back in 2013, but it still seems noteworthy.
The spring of 2013 also saw the departure of Sheila Sanders, the chief information officer for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, in the midst of the medical center’s struggles to implement its own Epic system. While Wake Forest Baptist had spent a comparatively modest $13.3 million on direct Epic costs during its second quarter of fiscal 2012-13, the medical center had been socked by delays in revenue resulting to Epic rollout problems, including issues with billing, coding and collections.
Wake Forest Baptist reported taking an $8 million hit that quarter due to “business-cycle disruptions (that) have had a greater-than-anticipated impact on volumes and productivity.” It also reported $26.6 million in lost margin due to reduced volume during go-live and post go-live Epic optimization.
Of course, a botched rollout can mean job insecurity no matter what EMR the hospital has chosen. For example, in May of 2014, Athens Regional Medical Center President and CEO James Thaw was apparently pressured out of office when the facility’s Cerner rollout went poorly. (After weeks of Cerner problems, the hospital’s staff voted 270-0 that they had “no confidence” in the hospital’s leadership. Gulp!) Somehow, Senior Vice President and CIO Gretchen Tegethoff kept her job, but my bet is that it was a close-run thing.
And to be fair, this is obviously a small, selected set of anecdotes about questionable Epic rollouts. They don’t prove that Epic is a CIO job killer or an ineffective EMR. But these stories do highlight the fact that while Epic investments might yield good things, rolling Epic out requires nerves of steel and flawless execution.