Epic cautions against irresponsible data-sharing

Health & Living

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VERONA, WIS.—Judy Faulkner and other leaders from Epic System Corp. issued words of warning about the data-management practices of companies outside of healthcare, urging customers to be wary of products claiming to do anything for free.

These companies often do not comply with HIPAA and they sometimes steer patients toward inappropriate services or share too much data, as Facebook did with Cambridge Analytica, Faulkner said at Epic's users group meeting where she donned a scout costume, duck boots, and a ranger hat to celebrate the meeting's "great outdoors" theme.

When companies say their services are free, it might be because they're selling personal data, Epic officials alleged.

For its part, Epic will soon have a feature intended to help patients decide which third-party apps to share their health data with. If a patient wants to pull data from Epic's MyChart patient portal into a third-party app, Epic will tell the patient who made the app and what it does with their data.

Within its own software, Epic aims to increase data-sharing across its community of users. The vendor currently facilitates the exchange of 3.5 million records every day, up from 2 million daily records as of the users group meeting in 2017. More than 1 million of those records are exchanged with other vendors' systems.

Faulkner called for "one organization, one system"—a way for all Epic users to interact as if they were on the same virtual version of the software.

"Eventually, the standards will come," she said, to include organizations not using Epic in that virtual system.

In the meantime, Epic will work on incremental improvements to its own software, including automated estimates for treatment plans and giving patients the ability to estimate costs without logging in to MyChart.

The vendor also touched on regulations, which include greater interoperability.

Speaking about the CMS' new Promoting Interoperability Programs, which takes the place—or at least is a new name for—the EHR Incentive Programs, Sasha TerMaat, a director at Epic, compared it to the word formed by the first letters of the program's first two words, "pi." Like pi, she said, Promoting Interoperability is irrational, never-ending, and people remember only the first part.

Joking aside, TerMaat encouraged the audience to keep their Epic software up to date.

The current version of the software, released this month, has some of the features the company announced last year, including a limited voice assistant developers say will grow more robust in coming releases. Eventually, for instance, nurses will be able to search patient charts using voice, as well as initiate chats and calls.

Some of the capabilities are reminiscent of what Amazon and Google allow for consumers with their voice assistants. Though those speaking for Epic never said the names of these companies and other could-be competitors aloud, their names did appear on screen, pulled from healthcare publications' headlines.

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