Is A Cerner Installation A “Downgrade” From Epic? Ask This Guy

I don’t know if I’ve ever quoted a letter to the editor in a column for this publication, but I have to this time. I thought it had an interesting story to tell.

The letter, written by a patient at the Banner University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson, offers a scathing critique what he sees “degradation of services” taking place after the institution switched from an Epic to a Cerner EHR, a change he refers to as a downgrade throughout the letter.

Since the “downgrade,” said the patient, John Kimbell, appointments take much longer. “Three weeks after the downgrade, my 30-minute appointment took three hours and 40 minutes,” he complains.

His other concerns include:

  • Data exchange problems: “My local doctor has TWICE sent results of a scan to my oncologist, and they never arrived.”
  • Privacy issues: With the automated paging system gone, “nurses call out names in the waiting areas in each clinic,” Kimbell notes.
  • Useless information: After Kimbell’s most recent appointment, he says, he was “handed out a 13-page printout that gave 12 pages information I didn’t need.” Before the Epic to Cerner switch, he reports, he was able to access this information online.
  • Communication issues: Kimbell says he never gets telephone call reminders of appointments anymore.

As Kimbell sees it, the quality of care has slipped significantly since Epic was switched out for a Cerner system. “All the cancer patients I have known while a patient there are in need of better care than Banner now provides,” he writes.

It’s important to note here that the Epic-to-Cerner switch-off took place in October last year, which means that the tech and administrative staff haven’t had much time to work out problems with the new installation. It may be the case that the concerns Kimbell had in late December won’t be an issue in a couple of months.

On the other hand, I do think it’s possible that as the letter implies, UMC owner Banner Health may have had reasons to push the Cerner install into the facility, most particularly if all of its other properties already operate using Cerner.

Regardless, if everything is as Kimbell describes, let’s hope it all gets back in order soon.  From the looks of things, UMC seems to offer a renowned cancer treatment program. Let’s hope that a quality program isn’t undermined by IT concerns.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • This patient’s concerns are certainly not unheard of in the midst of any EHR conversion. It does sound like his frustration is due to human issues more than any software issues. It is incredibly difficult for staff to change EHR’s and the (sometimes) forced workflow changes that come with that change can be irritating for everyone, especially the patients. The one thing that is certain is that the physicians and nurses will put patient care first and abandon an EHR before tolerating months of 3 1/2 hour appointments. What this shows us as healthcare professionals is the importance of keeping the staff positive during these changes and the patients even more so. The importance of being proactive in helping patients cope during these changes cannot be overstated – free snacks, beverages, and even free massages in the waiting room are cheap alternatives compared to the cost of damage control.

    That Banner Health would convert UMC to Cerner is a no-brainer for their organization. Whether a change from Epic to Cerner (or McKesson, Allscripts, Meditech, or a potato) is a downgrade is an argument that can only serve to waste the organization’s time and resources. I certainly hope Mr. Kimbell’s next visit is better!

  • It’s not Cerner, it is the installation. Don’t worry, Epic has a good deal of potential problems too.

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