Faulkner eschewed conventional wisdom to build Epic medical records

July 1, 2018


SAN DIEGO — A curious entry sign greets visitors to the Verona, Wis., head office of a medical records software company: "Epic Intergalactic Headquarters."

During a June 11 address at the Catholic Health Assembly here, Epic founder and Chief Executive Judith Faulkner quipped that the sign helps the company keep out anyone who doesn't have a sense of humor. The importance of celebrating fun and frivolity was one of the many kernels of wisdom delivered during a keynote address by the woman who Forbes has called the nation's "most successful female technology company founder."

Judith Faulkner
Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./© CHA

Her talk centered on the value of innovation and her description of Epic's founding, development, campuses and culture revealed that the company is anything but conventional.

A computer programmer, Faulkner started the company nearly 40 years ago in the basement of an apartment house with $70,000 in start-up money and two part-time assistants. Faulkner told assembly attendees a few companies had recruited her to create systems for securing, storing and managing patient health care data — at a time when no such thing existed. She built systems for clients from scratch; and after two years of prodding from them, she agreed to form her own company to address the market demand for such systems.

During her address, she said she and her growing executive team built the company slowly, being intentional about the culture, campus design and mission of Epic. Headquartered in a rural suburb of Madison, Wis., Epic refuses venture capital money and has never made a corporate acquisition; she said the company has no intention to make a public stock offering.

It has grown organically, with Faulkner having a personal say in most hiring and teaching a mandated Epic company culture class herself.

Epic built its base of health system and facility clients using word of mouth and other informal outreach. It makes no outbound sales calls, does no advertising or direct marketing, and doesn't set quotas or financial incentives for its eight-member sales team.

All employees have private offices rather than cubicles, and its only dress code is: "If there are visitors, you must wear clothes." There are no formal budgets, nor are there annual reviews. For every five years of employment, staff are eligible for a four-week sabbatical. If they take it in another country they've never visited, Epic will pay for most travel expenses for the employee and a guest. The goal is for employees to expand their "horizons and experience something entirely new," according to the company's website.

Judith Faulkner, at right, chief executive and founder of the Epic electronic medical record software company, and her Epic colleague Kelsey Perkins, center, chat with a CHA member after Faulkner’s keynote address at the Catholic Health Assembly. Photo by Jerry Naunheim Jr./© CHA

Faulkner said Epic strives to foster an environment where employees can be creative and productive.

The innovative approaches have led to tremendous growth. According to information from Epic, the company has about 9,400 employees and over 400 customers. Its gross revenue in 2017 was $2.7 billion. According to the Epic website, more than 200 million patients currently have an electronic record in Epic.

Forbes currently estimates Faulkner's net worth at $3.6 billion. She has pledged to give 99 percent of her assets to philanthropy.

During her assembly presentation, Faulkner shared some insights on health care technology and care delivery. She said the health care sector still is not adequately addressing the need for illness prevention and for promoting wellness. Identifying and addressing often overlooked patient concerns, such as loneliness, could have an impact not just on their mental well-being, but also on health outcomes.

Faulkner said interoperability of medical record systems will enable a more holistic view of patients because providers will be able to track all of patients' care, not just that delivered within their own facility.

Organizations both within and outside of health care and information technology are rushing to enter the health information technology space. A similar rush occurred in the early 1990s. Faulkner noted that many of those ventures failed. To succeed in health information technology, she said, companies must go beyond medical needs to address patients' deeper level needs, such as mental health and social needs.

She said helping health care providers meet patients' needs is the inspiration behind her work.



Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.