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Knights in shining armor and miniature castles decorated a dining tent at Epic's 2017 Users Group Meeting. The theme for the conference was "World of Wizards."

Thousands of health care leaders gathered in Verona on Tuesday to hear Judy Faulkner, the billionaire co-founder and CEO of Verona’s Epic Systems, share company news and ruminations on digital health care at Epic's annual fall conference.

The week-long Users Group Meeting has become a Madison area phenomenon, filling hotels with thousands of visitors from health care institutions. UGM itself comprises hundreds of talks, workshops and exhibitions centered on Epic’s web of health records software.

Keeping in line with the company’s whimsical brand, UGM is also a spectacle. The campus on Tuesday bustled with horse carriage rides, volleyball games and impromptu performances by a cappella groups. Keeping in line with this year's theme of “World of Wizards,” the massive dining tent erected behind the company's training center featured knights in shining armor and a small model castle visitors could clamber around.

Faulkner, as is her tradition, wholeheartedly took part in the whimsy. She delivered her executive address before a crowd of almost 13,000 at Epic’s cavernous Deep Space auditorium in a burgundy and gold wizard’s robe, complete with a floppy cap. In year’s past, Faulkner has dressed as the Mad Hatter, a biker and Lucille Ball.

Faulkner’s speech, as usual for the UGM executive address, celebrated users of Epic’s platform. She gave shoutouts to health institutions that had used Epic’s software to reduce patient wait times, deploy telemedicine initiatives, or who have found success using any of the other tools in Epic’s suite of applications.

“I'm always in awe of what you do,” she told the crowd. “I wish there was magic, so we could just wave the wand … but we have to be the wizards.”

Faulkner also bragged about the inroads the company has seen with medical data access and exchange. Faulkner specifically touted the company’s new Share Everywhere project, which would allow a health care provider to see a patient’s record even if they don’t have any kind of electronic health records system.

Faulkner also expounded on the very nature of the electronic medical record. The time for the EMR was over, she said. Medical leaders now need to look to the “CMR,” the “comprehensive medical record.”

“The electronic E has to go away now — it’s all electronic,” she said. “We have to go beyond the traditional walls. We have to knock the walls down.”

According to Faulkner, health care practitioners need to incorporate as many kinds of data as possible to gain a more sophisticated understanding of their patients. That means looking at genomics, whether someone lives in a food desert or a high-crime neighborhood, or whether they feel happy or lonely.

Faulkner also specifically touted the idea of increasing investment in social spending on health care in the U.S.

“Others spend more on social care, and end up with healthier people,” she said. “We won’t be able to afford to continue the way we’re doing it.”

The executive address also featured a cadre of other Epic leaders, including company president Carl Dvorak and senior vice president Sumit Rana, introducing new Epic tools and capabilities.

The biggest reveal was the launch of the Epic App Orchard marketplace, where the company features health care-centric software made by third parties for health care providers to browse through. The store, which has been in development for years, currently features 13 applications.

The company also showed off tools like Google Home and Amazon Echo agents for MyChart, which could help patients refill medications through connected devices via voice command; a tool called “Payment Guardian” for helping billing departments manage reimbursements; and artificial intelligence that could help doctors predict things from opioid addiction to sepsis.

Dvorak also took a few minutes to address negative press regarding Epic and the EMR market — specifically, recent stories about doctors spending hours at their computers filling out orders and entering notes, even after they’ve already gone home. The company president asserted that the stories don’t accurately reflect the underlying research, and asserted that electronic tools are ultimately time-savers.

“It is totally inappropriate to twist the facts to fit the headline,” he said. “I’d like to see less of that.”

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.