Epic Install Triggers Loss At MD Anderson

Posted on May 31, 2016 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.

Surprising pretty much no one, another healthcare organization has attributed adverse financial outcomes largely to its Epic installation. In this case, the complaining party is the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which attributes its recent shortfall to both EMR costs and lower revenues. The news follows a long series of cost overruns, losses and budget crises by other healthcare providers implementing Epic of late.

According to Becker’s Hospital CFO, MD Anderson reported adjusted income of $122.9 million during that period a 56.6% drop over the seven-month period ending March 31. During that period, the cancer center’s wages and salaries climbed, and Epic-related consulting costs were climbed as well. This follows a $9.9 million operating loss for the first quarter of the 2016 fiscal year, which the University of Texas attributed to higher-than-expected EMR expenses.

MD Anderson announced its choice of Epic in spring 2013, and went live on the system in March of this year as anticipated. The cancer center’s rollout was guided by Epic veteran Chris Belmont, the center’s CIO, who implemented Epic across 10 hospitals and more than three dozen clinics for New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System.

The organization didn’t announce what it was spending on the Epic install, but we all know it doesn’t come cheap. However, one would think the University of Texas health system could afford the investment. According to EHR Intelligence, the Texas health system ranks in the 99th percentile for net patient revenue in the US, with total revenue topping $5.58 billion.

And UT leaders seem to have been prepared for the bump, reporting that they’d planned for a material impact to revenues and expenses as a result of the Epic implementation. The system didn’t announce any staff cuts, hiring freezes or other budget-trimming moves resulting from these financial issues.

Having said all this, however, no organization wants to see its income drop. So what actually happened?

For example, when the UT system reports that a drop in patient revenues contributed to the drop in income, what does that mean? Does this refer to scheduled drops in patient volume, planned for ahead of time, or problems billing for services? I’d be interested to know if the center managed to keep on top of revenue cycle management during the transition.

Another question I have is what caused the unanticipated expenses. Did they come from contract disputes with Epic? Unexpected technical problems? Markups on consulting services? Or did the organization have to pour money into the project to meet its go-live deadline? There’s a lot of ways to generate costs, and I’d love to get some granular information on what happened.

Also, I wonder what steps UT leaders will take to avoid unexpected expenses in the future. While it may have learned some lessons from the problems it’s had so far, there’s no guarantee that it won’t face of the costly problems going forward.

If, perchance, and the system has figured out how to stay in the black with its Epic investment, it could sell that secret to cover its IT expenses for years. I’m betting other systems would pay good money for that information!