Unfortunately, Epic Seeing Growth Explosion

Posted on January 25, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

Let me be candid here: I’m not too pleased with the progress of Epic as the hospital system of choice. Experience tells me that once a vendor becomes the default choice, seemingly due as much to C-suite peer pressure as technical merit, vendors get lazy and worse, extremely arrogant.

I admit most of us would be blinded by the magnitude of Epic’s success. According to chief administrative office Stephen Dickman, who spoke at a recent business luncheon in Madison, Epic’s stats include the following:

* It had 260 customers last year, and expects to add another 30 large customers this year

* It serves hospitals and clinics treating 33 percent to 44 percent of the U.S. population

* It has 5,225 employees and expects to add 1,000 this year

* It expects to have generated $1.2 billion in 2011 revenues

*  It has only five sales people on staff (!)

Sure, these numbers are very impressive. But that doesn’t excuse Epic’s imperial attitude, or CEO Judith Faulkner’s contention that hospitals should only worry about interoperating with her company’s products. Look, Ms. Faulkner: I’m sure you’re bright, but I’m pretty sure you’re no Steve Jobs. You may be taking over the hospital EMR business, but you’re not reinventing it.

In my experience, users uniformly say that Epic’s interface is all but broken, that it’s hard to adapt and in some cases, that the 20-something young geniuses the company sends to install and service its systems aren’t particularly deferential. (If you want to hear a particularly galling tale — downright terrifying, if true — check out the tale of one engagement in which Epic staffers seemingly tried to get a hospital CIO fired.)

Meanwhile, if Epic leaders ever gave a damn about building great products, they don’t have a lot of incentive to do that now. Yes, they face well-financed competition from Cerner and Meditech and GE, but if they only have five sales people on board, they must assume they can beat those folks with one hand tied behind their back.  At this point, in other words, competition isn’t enough reason to keep improving their product.

I guess the bottom line here is that I instinctively distrust any company that seems too secure at the top, especially if they’re not known for being especially likeable or having a superior product. Isn’t anyone going to show up and challenge them for the throne?