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Epic

Epic Systems Corp.'s sprawling campus in Verona, seen in this aerial shot, continues to grow. Epic says it will add a new department that will handle billing for smaller clients of its electronic health records software.

Wisconsin may house one of the biggest electronic health records companies in the country — Epic Systems Corp. in Verona — but the state Department of Health Services has chosen a major Epic competitor to provide the digital health info for its seven care and treatment facilities.

Cerner, of Kansas City, Missouri, has been selected for the 10-year, $33 million contract. As it turns out, Epic was not among the five bidders that submitted proposals for the project, DHS spokeswoman Jennifer Miller said.

No immediate comment was available as to why Epic did not participate.

The contract will cover records for Central Wisconsin Center and Mendota Mental Health Institute, Madison; Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center, Mauston; Southern Wisconsin Center, Union Grove; Northern Wisconsin Center, Chippewa Falls; and Winnebago Mental Health Institute and the Wisconsin Resource Center, both near Oshkosh.

“This is an investment in more coordinated, efficient services,” DHS Secretary Linda Seemeyer said. “This system is designed to enhance the health and safety of patients and residents and improve staff productivity.”

It is the first time the state-operated mental health treatment centers will be served by a coordinated electronic health records system, Miller said. “Currently, they create and maintain paper records that are supplemented with various facility-specific electronic applications,” she said.

Funds for the project were approved in the state’s 2013-15 budget, DHS said.

Epic branching out

to billing

What Epic is doing, though, is starting a new service: medical billing.

“With a billing presence across all 50 states, Epic is well-positioned and excited to share our best practices and take on some of the billing work and associated IT functions,” spokeswoman Meghan Roh said. The billing service is aimed at clients who use an Epic product that tracks patient accounting for outpatient clinics, she said.

Epic is advertising on its website for employees to staff the medical billing department.

“Our goal is to simplify the payment process by helping Epic organizations with the complexities of submitting claims and posting payments,” the ad says.

Roh said it’s not clear yet how many employees will be added to staff the program. “We’re not only hiring externally, but also have a number of current Epic staff that will be involved. Just like other Epic programs, we’ll evaluate the demand for increased staffing needs as the effort grows,” she said.

The billing service could help Epic pick up smaller clients than the large hospital groups and health organizations that have been the company’s primary focus, according to an article this week on the Healthcare IT News website.

“The ability to offer billing could be a boon for Epic’s efforts to grow its business with resource-strapped small hospitals and physician practices,” the article says.

In February, Epic founder and CEO Judy Faulkner told Healthcare IT News that Epic is developing two less elaborate — and less expensive — versions of its electronic health records system for organizations that don’t need the whole shebang.

The smallest one, called Sonnet, is designed for small hospitals and smaller physician practices, Roh told the State Journal on Friday.

Founded in 1979, Epic’s software is used in health records for 190 million people worldwide, including nearly 60 percent of U.S. patients. The company has more than 9,600 employees and had 2016 revenue of $2.5 billion.

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.