Feature:Opinion

An Epic conflict of interest

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Pejman Yousefzadeh
Co-Host, Coffee and Markets
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      Pejman Yousefzadeh

      Pejman Yousefzadeh is an attorney in the Chicago area. He is a contributor to The New Ledger, co-host of the Coffee and Markets podcast, and editor of A Chequer-Board of Nights and Days.

Meet Judy Faulkner. She is the founder and CEO of Epic Systems Corporation in Wisconsin. She is also a member of the GAO Health Information Technology Policy Committee and an advisory board member of the Journal of Healthcare Information Management. She is also politically active. In 2008, Faulkner gave at least $110,000 to political organizations and candidates, including $57,000 to the Democratic National Committee and $2,300 to then-Senator Barack Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. After Obama’s election, Faulkner continued giving to the Democrats, giving at least $85,000 through the 2010 midterm election. In 2010, Faulkner gave $60,000 to the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which was responsible for targeting conservative Wisconsin state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser for defeat. In 2011, Faulkner has given over $51,000 to Democrats.

The $787 billion stimulus bill signed into law by President Obama in February 2009 included $19 billion for healthcare information technology (HIT), and created the Health IT Policy Committee, whose job it was to advise the federal government on spending the $19 billion allocation. The committee was to have one member responsible for representing information technology vendors. Judy Faulkner was designated as that member.

A key aspect of HIT is “semantic interoperability,” which refers to a situation in which multiple systems are able to send and receive information, and are able to reconcile different terms. For example, if different names or terms come up for a particular disease, and the terms are reconciled, we will have semantic interoperability. Achieving interoperability means achieving efficiency in information transfers, which will bring about better patient service. And yet, Judy Faulkner, as the lone HIT representative sitting on the Policy Committee, has done everything in her power to stymie interoperability.

Consider the following observation from Glen Tullman, the CEO of AllScripts, which is a HIT company:

Epic is the least-connected system of any out there. … The only people in the market who are fighting connectivity are Epic, and their strategy is to say, “Sure, you’re connected as long as everybody’s on one system and it’s the same version.” … Epic is not only against connectivity, but they’re anti-innovation. From that standpoint, they’re kind of exactly the opposite of the connectivity model that the rest of the industry is working toward.

Politicians are giving Faulkner cover. A number of members of Congress wrote to both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, demanding the implementation of an HIT system. The letter cites Kaiser Permanente, the Cleveland Clinic, and Cedars Sinai — all Epic clients — as having model systems and includes endorsements from both Republicans and Democrats. Of course, Faulkner did not procure Republican support for Epic’s work by having contributed money and energy to Democratic causes. But we don’t know whether her Democratic support was merit-based, or whether it came as a result of her fealty to the Democratic Party’s agenda.