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UGM’22: Perspective of a Newbie

by John Moore | August 31, 2022

Elena Iokovleva

Chilmark Research is publishing two perspectives of this year’s UGM. Elena provides a perspective from one who has never attended a major vendor’s user conference. The second, to follow in a couple of days, will be from a grizzled veteran of these events – heck, I can’t even begin to count how many events I’ve attended in my 25 plus year career as an analyst.

-John Moore

Elena Heading Back to the Future

Even before I arrived, I could already hear people talking on the plane; at the hotel; everyone eager to discuss their expectations, and the issues they hoped to address at UGM. The excitement was palpable. You could sense that everyone arriving came with an agenda and were engaged and actively involved with building a better technological environment for their patients/clients.

Unfortunately, it is quite a hard job to put together the whole mosaic of the Epic’s world through secondary research. UGM is the only place where you can experience Epic’s culture and understand their vision.

That vision is led by founder Judy Faulkner who’s main executive briefing was not only inspiring to all who work in the industry, but also charming and supportive in our uncertain times. To me she appeared to be an anchor holding all those boats floating in the ocean, projecting confidence and importance to the audience to strive for something bigger than ourselves.

A Beautiful, Magical Campus

Epic’s campus looked like somewhere you’d go for vacation, not a conference. I was struck with all the artwork on display throughout the campus. I especially liked the art that was closely related to nature. This seems to be the core part of Epic’s culture. With all the futuristic ideas, they are deeply grounded in nature, with a little fun and whimsey thrown in.

What’s on the Menu from Epic’s Kitchen

With sadness and grief, I must admit that I haven’t made it to about 50% of sessions I was planning to attend. Yet my schedule was still intense. COVID taught us how to share information virtually, but it is difficult to capture the real day-to-day experiences of the providers, their “I am a human” challenges, hopes and needs. At UGM’22 I talked to many provider representatives, which significantly shifted my research optics.

Epic’s Digital Front Door Still Under Development
Epic is leveraging both Cheers (its CRM) and MyChart to enable the digital front door. MyChart, their patient facing engagement tool, has slowly seen features added over the years. This year it was clear that Epic, who has always been highly customer focused, has heard their clients’ calls for far greater capabilities and features to MyChart to improve patient retention, as well as the added benefit of lowering administrative costs through patient self-serve.

New features include an easy second opinion option, custom home care plans, easier bill pay process and hospital directory. The new feature though that got me most excited was “Builder”.  Builder is a simplified low-code constructor to enable clients to customize MyChart for a patient co-hort. As a frequent user of MyChart, this is a very welcomed addition.

Despite these advances, it was puzzling when the company announced they are releasing the capability to send automated text messages to patients to confirm their appointment. I have been receiving such text messages from my dentist for years.

Rapidly Growing Interest in Hospital@Home
My first session was on Hospital@Home, and it was jam-packed. There was no space for an apple to fall! People were standing after all seats were filled; and eager to be there nonetheless. Hospital@Home clearly this is a topic of high interest across Epic’s client base. This was surprising as the Hospital@Home concept is relatively new and few facilities provide this service. However, in conversations I had with a few health systems nearly all have recently launched their first pilots.

Growing attention to this area will continue as health systems gain CMS waivers, but as of now- all providers are struggling with workflow establishment, technology adoption and a need for more human resources.

It was shocking that there are very few resources available for Hospital@Home implementers. Seems like Epic wasn’t fully ready as well. Timing for clinical encounters, connectivity, charge dropping, various data transmitting bumps still need extensive work.

Another issue is that the technological vendors powering Hospital@Home programs are very diverse and, in many cases, providers just aren’t aware of what is available in the market. We hope to address this concern in our future report on the subject that will be released later this fall. Stay tuned.

RPM Core to Hospital@Home and Chronic Care
Epic was supposed to announce a major partnership with a Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) vendor at UGM, but it was postponed to later this year. Confident this partnership will be with a large vendor with a highly customizable set of RPM tools. Epic’s mobile solutions, Haiku for iPhone and Android phones and Canto for the iPad, are foundational solutions for RPM and Hospital@Home.

RCM Updates will be Welcomed
Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) was another key piece of Epic’s development road map. Having work with Epic’s RCM in a previous career stint, I was thrilled to see an upcoming option to drop a single bill. If Epic delivers on what it laid-out in its product roadmap successful, it will solve a huge amount of manual rework and increase overall reimbursement rates. There is no defined date of implementation though.

Along with the single bill drop, there are ambitious plans on automation for appeals, responses to RFI denials, authorizations, and post-billing coverage changes. All seems like a dream for RCM operations, but to get to this onion’s layer we need to peel back a few more and no-touch authorizations seems to be the first barrier to face, which Payer Platform will address.

Some other welcomed additions were for Patient Self-Service. In the future patients will be able to sign up for visit auto pay (available now), pre-service payment plans, and consolidated balances across a health system and their affiliated providers.

Closing Thoughts
Overall, Epic continues to move forward in advancing new tools and functionality for their clients. While Epic is unlikely to ever be first in any innovation, it has proven itself to be a fast follower and typically executes well on what are client priorities and needs. This bodes well for Epic’s continuing expansion in national and international markets.

I was very impressed with UGM. Epic’s team did an excellent job. I think many could learn from their approach to presentations, including myself, it was a true art.

With all the promising announcements, there are still plenty of opportunities to build-out new functionality. My main concern is remote care and how Epic will keep up with daily challenges affecting clinicians and patients. Paper-perfect initiatives make them jump through the burning hoops quicker and quicker, can Epic accommodate the comfort level it is expected to provide? On top of all the challenges, adoption of Epic’s features is often slow among providers as change management and workflows remain an ongoing challenge.

Unbelievably cool experience at UGM 2022 in Verona, Wisconsin. Bravo organizers! The entire process from registration to airport departure was as smooth as it could possibly be and in just 3 days I’ve learned more about Epic than from being an active Epic user for over 6 years.

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