April 03, 2022

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Add unstructured content to get more value out of Epic

Nearly 80% of all patient data is unstructured, so there’s potentially a vast amount of clinically relevant content that isn’t inherently managed by EMR systems.

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Ken Congdon

Expertise in the healthcare technology industry

Medical professional views digital medical images on a tablet computer.

An implementation of Epic — or any electronic medical record (EMR) system, for that matter — is likely the single most significant IT investment your healthcare facility will ever make. This core clinical system provides a solid foundation to drive operational efficiencies, enhance patient care and improve outcomes.

However, an EMR isn’t a self-contained super system. In fact, when you consider that nearly 80% of all patient data in healthcare is unstructured, there is potentially a vast amount of clinically relevant content that isn’t inherently managed by EMR systems like Epic.

Most EMRs (including Epic) are fantastic when it comes to collecting detailed patient information in the discrete fields that are native to the software. However, a patient record doesn’t consist of digital fields alone. Historical charts, referral documents, medical images, clinical narratives and other types of content are required to tell the whole patient story.

Epic has embedded tools that allow for the ingestion of some of these content types. However, many providers may desire more robust capabilities when it comes to managing these assets both within and outside the EMR.

Giving structure to unstructured data

By integrating a proven content services platform with Epic, you can provide clinicians with access to critical patient documents, photos, and other unstructured content from within the EMR. A content services integration also provides users with enhanced workflow, data capture, and integration capabilities that allow you to extract even more value out of these assets.

Furthermore, most broad-based content services platforms are based on universal standards, rather than a proprietary EMR coding language. This means other departments that may not have access to Epic (Patient Registration, Accounts Payable, Human Resources and so forth) can leverage the system (and the clinical and business documents it contains). This enhances the information’s overall enterprise value.

Integrating medical images with Epic has become another primary focus for many healthcare facilities, given the criteria outlined in Stage 2 Meaningful Use. There are a variety of ways to image-enable Epic, but it’s important your efforts don’t focus solely on the DICOM images stored in radiology and cardiology picture archiving and communications systems (PACS). While these systems may contain the bulk of patient images you want to link to Epic (MRIs, CT Scans, etc.), they aren’t all-inclusive.

In fact, there are a variety of clinically vital medical images and videos stored in specialty systems outside of PACS. These include ultrasound images, gastroenterology images, and video (endoscopy, colonoscopy, and so forth), dermatology photos, surgery and OR photos, ED images, and more. You’ll want to ensure that all of these images are integrated with and accessible via Epic at some point in the process.

Looping patient data into the mix

Finally, you won’t typically find patient-generated health data in Epic. Technologies that support the transmission of this data type into the EMR can prove instrumental in developing tailored and patient-centered treatment plans, improving chronic disease monitoring and management, and feeding current and future population health management programs.

Epic’s highly publicized development efforts with Apple Health are one example of this integration type. However, a seemingly endless number of devices and apps exist that can infuse Epic with near-real-time patient data on everything from key vitals and biometric data (weight, A1C levels, heart activity, and so forth) to lifestyle information (activity levels, sleep patterns, etc.).

Epic is a wonderful piece of technology that is improving the way care is delivered, but it can be even better. By augmenting the solution with the right add-ons, you can really take your EMR, and your patient care efforts, to the next level.