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Epic Systems Corp.'s $624M contract with VA is back on track, published reports say

Wisconsin State Journal - 3/18/2017

March 18--A $624 million contract for Epic Systems Corp. and a Lockheed subsidiary to produce an online medical appointment scheduling program for the nation's military veterans is apparently back in business after being on hold for nearly a year, published reports say.

The Veterans Administration is moving forward with the Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS), being developed by Verona-based Epic and Systems Made Simple, an official told the House Committee on Veterans Affairs at a hearing in February.

A pilot project is underway and results will be available in 18 months, Jennifer Lee, Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services, told committee members, according to an article in Healthcare Informatics.

The test is being conducted in Boise, Idaho, according to FCW, a publication for federal technology executives. At the same time, though, the VA also will continue work on updating its own, home-grown scheduling software, the FCW article said.

Epic officials were not available to comment on the reports.

Epic -- one of the nation's largest electronic health records developers -- and Systems Made Simple won the five-year, multimillion-dollar contract in August 2015. But last April, the Veterans Health Administration decided to shelve that agreement and focus on fixing its own system at a fraction of the cost, $6.4 million.

The decision drew some big concerns at the time from members of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Subcommittee chairman Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, called it "a dramatic about-face," according to an April 2016 article by Modern Healthcare.

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-New Hampshire, said the VA already had spent $27.5 million toward a MASS pilot project, and previous efforts to update its home-grown software were unsuccessful.

"This seems like déj... vu all over again to me," Kuster said, the Modern Healthcare story said.

The Epic-Lockheed contract came after a 2014 scandal in which VA employees falsified records on the wait times veterans endured before they could see a doctor. The wait was so long, at least several dozen veterans died before they could get care, investigations found.

Now that Epic's MASS project apparently is back in gear, the Verona company says it is working with Nuance Communications, of Orlando, Florida, to include innovations aimed at disabled veterans.

A statement from Nuance in February said the Florida company's artificial intelligence technology, combined with Epic's electronic health records system, will provide a hands-free virtual assistant for veterans with disabilities.

"We are very proud of our work with Nuance," Epic president Carl Dvorak said in the statement. "By going above and beyond what is required ... Epic is focused on delivering a completely new experience to those veterans that have suffered physical disabilities due to their service to our country."

Founded in 1979, Epic says 190 million patients in the U.S. and around the world use its electronic health records software. The company has more than 9,600 employees and had 2016 revenue of $2.5 billion.

Epic nuggets

Epic's website often lists some of the gains that its health organization clients attribute to the Verona company's software system, and two recent ones went beyond the usual cost-saving and procedure-preventing conclusions.

--Geisinger Health System, which serves more than 3 million people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, used Epic software to identify patients with a life-threatening, genetic disorder and help them get treatment. Geisinger collected genetic samples from more than 50,000 patients as part of its MyCode Community Health Initiative and found that 229 of them have a gene variant for familial hypercholesterolemia, a disorder that prevents the body from eliminating LDL cholesterol -- considered the bad cholesterol because it can lead to clogged arteries. The study was reported in the publication Science.

--Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas, is identifying patients who are considered at high risk of committing suicide using its Epic system. In 2015, Parkland adopted a screening tool to assess patients in the emergency department and in the first year found that about 6 percent showed an elevated suicide risk. They were given counseling and support resources. A Parkland official said research shows about 40 percent of people who die by suicide have been emergency department patients in the year before their death.

Contact Judy Newman at jdnewman@madison.com with tips and story suggestions.

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(c)2017 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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