Epic Hires DC Lobbying Firm To Fight Closed-System Reputation

Posted on September 15, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

For quite some time, everybody’s favorite EMR giant has a “no marketing, no government relations” policy. (In fact, Epic staffers really seem to hate journalists, but maybe they just don’t like me — who knows?)

Anyway, a few weeks ago, reports the ever-watchful HISTalk, it came out that Epic has broken its rule, hiring on DC lobbying firm Card & Associates. While you might think Epic would hire a billion-dollar behemoth, Card is a smallish firm with seven modest accounts and only one healthcare client. It must help, however, that Card is run by the brother of the former White House Chief of Staff under Pres. George W. Bush.

So what made Epic change its standard operating procedure and begin lobbying The Hill? In its federal lobbying disclosure, the EMR firm says that it’s begun lobbying to “educate members of Congress on the interoperability of Epic’s healthcare information technology.”

The timing of the outreach effort isn’t a coincidence, Modern Healthcare astutely notes. As you read this, a team made up of Epic, IBM and a handful of other technology giants are fighting other equally ferocious IT firms to win the roughly $11 billion contract to update the Department of Defense’s clinical systems.

While none of its contract competitors have a strong reputation for interoperability, Epic is seen as much worse, with a RAND Corp. study released in July calling Epic’s systems “closed records.” That had to hurt.

Unless Epic plans to hold health IT classes for Congress over the next several years, I doubt they’ll be able to make their point with largely Luddite Senators and Representatives in Washington on a technical basis. That is, Epic’s lobbyists won’t be able to convince legislators that Epic is interoperable on the merits.

But lobbyists may very well be able to break the ice on The Hill, and sell the idea that those mean, bad old health IT competitors haven’t been telling the truth about Epic. The pitch can include the somewhat matronly CEO, Judith Faulkner, who doesn’t look like the most powerful woman in healthcare or a competitor that would gladly bite your head off and spit it down your neck. Then they can roll out Epic’s pitch that its systems actually are interoperable (between other Epic installs at least). If it sticks even a little bit, whatever the $1.7 billion company spent will have been worth it.

Frankly, I find the idea of portraying Epic as an underdog in any way as downright laughable, and I bet you do too. But I simply can’t imagine another pitch that would work.