Epic to open source code to OHSU

First partnership with academic informatics program

Epic Systems Corp. will help Oregon Health & Science University set up two laboratory installations of its EpicCare electronic health record on its servers for medical informatics education and research purposes. On the research side, the school will have access to Epic's source code.

This is Epic's first partnership with an academic informatics program and possibly an important turning point for the company. While Epic does release its source code to commercial customers, it historically has conducted research and development almost exclusively on its sprawling campus in Verona, Wis., where all of its employees are based.

"It's a little bit of a change for Epic," said William Hersh, MD, chair of the Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology at OHSU in Portland, Ore. Hersh said it took several years of cajoling to get the vendor to commit to an academic partnership.

"We see this partnership with OHSU as a great way to accelerate the optimization of electronic health records," Bret Shillingstad, MD, an Epic clinical informatics physician, said in an OHSU press release. "Once the environments are established, Epic and OHSU will assist other Epic academic customers in establishing similar laboratory environments for their programs."

[See also: OHSU, Intel partner on genetics]

Verona, Wis.-based Epic as a rule does not issue press releases, though Schillingstad briefly mentioned the OHSU partnership at the just-concluded American Medical Informatics Association annual symposium in Washington.

OHSU will run the program through its Informatics Discovery Lab, where Epic will install two separate EpicCare servers, one for research and one for education, according to Hersh. The school's OHSU Healthcare system already runs EpicCare for its hospitals and clinics, but the teaching side has had to rely on a rather bare-bones installation of the open-source Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) for its EHR laboratory course.

The Epic partnership "gives us the opportunity to do the kind of informatics work we want to do," Hersh said. This includes teaching clinical decision support, system configuration and reports generation to graduate students in medical informatics as well as conducting EHR usability research.

"Historically, usability research, data standards work, etc., have mostly been done in home-grown [academic EHR] systems," Hersh said. Having a commercial system work with is "kind of a new chapter in informatics research," he said.

The educational system will house test data only to avoid any HIPAA issues that come with using actual patient data, Hersh said. The research system will mostly rely on test data as well, though some specific research projects might work with live records, subject to approval by OHSU's institutional review board.

Hersh said he hopes to have the technology in place in time to offer an EHR lab course starting with the spring 2014 quarter in March, and ramp up the program over the next year.

[See also: OHSU poised to train expanding health IT workforce]