Walgreens' Retail Clinics to Ramp Up with Epic EHR

To enhance care coordination and support long-term growth of its retail clinic business, Walgreens will install Epic's electronic health record platform across its more than 400 retail healthcare clinics.

Starting in early 2016, the EpicCare system will replace Walgreens’ internally developed, proprietary EHR system. Industry observers see the investment in Epic as an attempt to better compete with CVS MinuteClinics, which transitioned to Epic last year. CVS now operates more than 1,000 clinics nationwide.

As the largest and fastest growing retail clinic operator in the U.S., CVS has more than two-and-a-half times the number of MinuteClinics compared to Walgreens’ Healthcare Clinics. But by transitioning to Epic, these retail clinics will “enable more seamless communication with health systems and local providers,” as well as provide Walgreens with “enhanced capabilities to deliver better health outcomes through greater care coordination and interoperability,” company executives say.

Patrick Carroll, M.D., chief medical officer for Walgreens Healthcare Clinics, says the company does not comment on its competitors, their strategies or business model. But he notes that Epic has a “very robust” EHR platform for retail health and is the “best product” for its clinics, regardless of what decision CVS has made in picking a vendor.

“We are currently on a home-developed electronic health record, which we’ve had for over 10 years,” Carroll added. “It was adequate for our needs, but as we’ve grown as a company, we felt that Epic really offered the best customer experience, the best interoperability and also the best provider experience.”

Late last month, Walgreens announced that it intends to buy competitor Rite Aid in a $17.2 billion deal. While Carroll couldn’t comment on the acquisition and how it might affect Walgreens rollout of the Epic system or future plans for Rite Aid clinics, he did say that the company went through the EHR request for proposals process “long before Rite Aid even came into the picture” and “it’s totally separate.”

Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn adds that the Rite Aid deal will not close for another year and that the Epic implementation will begin in the first quarter of 2016. “This will be done before that transaction even closes,” Cohn concludes.

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In particular, Carroll referenced Epic’s Care Everywhere EHR-based interoperability network—the largest in the U.S.—which he believes will better provide the ability to share patient health information with primary care physicians to get a “full view” of their medical records. “Many of our health system partners use the Epic platform,” he says.

However, Doug Brown, managing partner of Black Book, questions Epic’s relative advantage over other EHR vendors in the retail clinic arena. “If it was about better occupational health or clinic documentation or analytics tools, I would have expected to see one of the best-of-breed EHR vendors selected. If it was about enhancing interoperability, they likely would have chosen a known EHR partner in CommonWell (a vendor interoperability collaborative). Neither of those happened,” Brown says. “Cerner, Allscripts, McKesson and even athenahealth have a wide network of EHR vendors with established, highly regarded interoperability and population health clients.”

Yet, Adam Gale, president of KLAS, says the research firm has measured the ambulatory EHR market for more than 10 years, and during that time Epic has been a consistent “Best in KLAS” award winner. For instance, Epic tied for first place with the highest interoperability scores across inpatient and ambulatory settings in a survey of nearly 250 providers  released last month by KLAS.

“Epic customers report high satisfaction with Epic’s development, functionality, attentive support and, more recently, ability to connect—with almost no cost and little effort—with the other organizations in the country using Epic’s EHR,” Gale says. “KLAS has interviewed 1,755 ambulatory EHR customers during the past 12 months about their experiences, and on average only 71 percent say they would buy their current EHR again if they could start over. Epic is the market leader in this metric, with 98 percent of 225 customers interviewed reporting that they would buy Epic again.”

Overall, Brown believes Epic “will be the winner by far in terms of advancing their community connectivity with retailers and payers from this deal.”


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