Epic Systems may soon add its name to the list of companies with virtual assistant software that people can give instructions to and get information from. But those who say, ‘Hey Epic’ to initiate a man-to-machine conversation won’t be your average consumers. Instead, they’ll be doctors, nurses, and others who use the Verona, WI-based company’s healthcare software to do their jobs.
Epic is holding its annual Users Group Meeting this week, a conference that brings 9,000 employees from hospitals and clinics that use Epic’s patient records software to its corporate campus, according to company estimates. On Tuesday, following founder and CEO Judy Faulkner’s opening address, a handful of leaders at Epic showed off new features and integrations the company has in the works. Some of these new tools are already built into the soon-to-be-released 2018 version of Epic’s software, while others are a bit further out on the horizon.
The conference has a “World of Wizards” theme this year. In keeping with that theme, one demonstration involved a fictional patient, Angus Pyramus, who visits a doctor after transforming himself into a mule. The doctor, who was played by real-life physician and Epic employee Chris Mast, used a prototype of Epic’s virtual assistant to treat Pyramus.
“Hey Epic, open my note for Mr. Pyramus using the transformation reversal template,” Mast said.
The large screens above the stage displayed how Epic’s software translates directions into system actions. For instance, it documented Mast’s assessment of the patient (“arrested transformation”), as well as the doctor’s instructions for Pyramus to treat the condition and return for another visit in a week. After each verbal command—opening a note, documenting physical findings, and entering orders into the system—the device running Epic’s software sounded a tone to indicate it received Mast’s directive.
“Hey Epic, sign that visit,” Mast said, completing the last step. He then gave a final word of advice to Pyramus. “In the future, just remember to master the reversal spell before you practice a transformation, okay?”
Meanwhile, Epic is also working to give some of the 190 million patients who have a current medical record in its software the ability to receive information about—and take actions related to—their health through virtual assistants like Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) Echo and Echo Dot (those are the ones users address as “Alexa” by default). That functionality, which is likely to arrive before Epic makes it possible for doctors to document entire patient visits using only their voices, is part of a trend of healthcare organizations working to engage patients outside the four walls of a hospital or clinic.
Epic president Carl Dvorak said hospitals can use the company’s software to save time and money by partially offloading appointment scheduling and other tasks to patients. Patients have used MyChart to schedule nearly 10 million appointments with their care providers, said Mark Lipsky, a division manager at Epic.
More than 68 million people now have accounts on MyChart, one of Epic’s patient-facing products, according to Janet Campbell, the company’s vice president of patient engagement.
Dvorak said patients are increasingly using MyChart to pay their medical bills.
“Patients are so gullible—they do it for free,” joked Dvorak. Online bill pay “means no statement was printed, no envelope was stuffed, no postage meter was stamped,” he told the audience. “These are tools that are designed to help you take cost out of the equation of healthcare.”