Operating in the world of health technology today is a lot like surviving out in the wilds of nature, according to Epic Systems Corp. founder and CEO Judy Faulkner.

“Being resourceful and working together make the world a better place,” Faulkner told a packed auditorium of thousands attending the Verona electronic health records company’s 2018 users group meeting on Tuesday morning.

In keeping with this year’s conference theme, “The Great Outdoors,” Faulkner was dressed in a brown Girl Scout uniform, with ranger hat and duck boots, and reminisced about the summers of her childhood at a camp in New Jersey, as camp songs played behind her.

She was one of 100 Scouts chosen to attend an encampment in the Three Sisters volcanic peaks in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, where Scouts learned how to catch fish with a paper clip because they didn’t have a hook, and how to make peach pie over a campfire.

“Scouting taught resourcefulness. … We learned teamwork,” she said.

Faulkner and her husband and children continued the camping tradition, hiking and backpacking through national parks and wildlife areas in the U.S. and Canada.

“We drove up the Alcan Highway before it was paved,” she said.

She also grappled with a bear.

“A great, big, black bear sat on our tent,” she said. “We tried pushing the bear. It was like pushing a boulder. It would not move.”

Health technology is moving, though; in fact, the intersection of health care and technology “is the hottest sector around,” Faulkner said, comparing it to the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.

“The printing press changed how the world worked. It was an upheaval. Now, information technology has put us in a similar upheaval,” she said.

Faulkner cautioned against new technology offerings to patients from non-health care companies, saying while some can provide more patient services, others may send patients to services they don’t need, increase health care costs, or share too much data as Facebook did with Cambridge Analytica.

Epic plans to offer a program that will help customers identify outside apps and find out what personal information they disclose.

Faulkner urged health care leaders to get on board with Epic’s new Cosmos program, which is collecting non-identifying information about patients to help guide future health-care decisions.

Cosmos “probably will be the world’s largest database of patient information,” Faulkner said. “This is going to be evidence-based medicine at its best.”

She also said Epic plans to hire “lots of new staff for software development.” Company spokeswoman Meghan Roh later said Epic hopes to add about 400 software developers by the end of 2019.

Epic leaders stressed the company’s efforts to share patient files between Epic client organizations and with hospitals using different electronic health record systems. Epic customers now share 3.5 million patient records a day, up from 2 million daily a year ago.

This year’s meeting is the first time Jason Hyde, director of the patient navigation center at NYU Langone Hospital in Brooklyn, has attended. Hyde said his hospital designed a program using Epic software to identify patients who are at high risk of repeat emergency room visits, to give them help for 30 days with social and economic issues and measure the outcome.

“It’s very encouraging,” Hyde said. “Early indications are the impact … seems to be positive.”

In one case, involving a 7-year-old boy with asthma whose mother spoke only Spanish, workers helped her learn how to use her son’s medication and served as an advocate for them at the boy’s school. The result was “powerful,” Hyde said.

Conference attendee Chris Lah, senior director of customer service and revenue at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said he likes Faulkner’s “passion. I feel she is trying to use this tool to improve global health through interconnectivity.”

Lah said he would like to see Epic give customers more features to connect “what we do clinically and how it affects the bottom line.”

Another conference-goer, Helen Brannon, vice president of a hospital in New York, said Epic is a “terrific product,” but she needs technology for managing hospital beds. “There are a lot of things Epic hasn’t designed to do yet for bed management.”

Nearly 17,000 people are attending Epic’s annual users group meeting — 8,000 leaders of Epic’s client hospitals and clinics and 9,000 of the company’s own employees. The sessions, which began Monday, run through Thursday at Epic’s Verona campus.

With 9,500 employees, $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017, more than 430 client organizations, and more than 200 million patients worldwide with records on Epic’s software systems, Epic is one of the nation’s largest electronic health records providers and the largest private employer in the Madison area.

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