Worcester, Massachusetts-based UMass Memorial Health Care, is preparing for a system-wide Epic go-live on October 1, part of a 10-year project that is expected to cost more than $700 million.
"Anytime you spend $700 million on something at a not-for-profit, it raises a lot of eyebrows," president and CEO Eric Dickson, MD, said.
But, Dickson is used to raising eyebrows and is ready to own the decision. The first thing he did when he took the helm at UMass Memorial in 2013 was to bring the medical school and health system together for a strategic planning retreat.
It was then that the senior leaders in both organizations agreed that upgrading the IT system to be prepared for the future of healthcare was the top priority.
"Now a lot of people talk about the Epic go-live, which is Oct. 1, just 17 days from now. But, this is not just about Epic. This is a complete redo of the monitors, so the monitors feed into the electronic health record so I don't have to be sitting in front of the monitor."
Clinicians will be able to monitor patient status from anywhere.
UMass is creating a single data repository, "a data lake that will allow us to do research to find better ways of taking care of patients," Dickson said. "It's about creating a platform for virtual visits so people don't have to come in for everything."
The health system is also creating a patient portal, retraining staff and redoing data sets.
"So often this gets labeled as the Epic project," Dickson said.
As he sees it, people forget that Epic is the software and UMass has also undertaken an upgrade of all its hardware and the network as well. Also, the staff skills have been upgraded at a significant cost, he said, and the workflows have been changed.
The Epic go-live is a big part of it, he said, but it's not the whole project. He figures Epic accounts for about $200 million of the total $700 million, cost. The rest is infrastructure, training, hardware, network closets, better bandwidth and a Microsoft Office suite – all of which is needed to support having an integrated electronic health record, he said.
Dickson has been through a go-live elsewhere, so he expects there will be problems – "a lot of little problems," he said. "But, I don't worry about that. We've got a great team that will deal with that."
He acknowledges that transitions are always risky, but UMass has procedures to manage whatever comes up, he said.
He knows once the system goes live to expect it will take some getting used to, notwithstanding the training.
"Even though this will be a much better system than we have, Dickson said, "that doesn't mean on Day 1 it will be easier to use. It's going to take some time to get used to it."
If the Epic EHR, which replaces a patchwork of technology from several other vendors, increases hospital efficiency by just 2 percent each year over the next five years, Dickson figures it will have paid for itself.