Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust will be recognised as the UK reference site for the benefits of hospital digitisation within a year, Epic Systems founder Judy Faulkner has said.

In an exclusive interview with Digital Health News, Faulkner argues that her company’s first UK customer will prove the model for the UK in a similar way to Kaiser Permenante, which is a key reference customer in the US.

“Cambridge will prove itself the UK reference site for the benefits of hospital digitisation within a year,” said Faulkner, adding that her company’s ethic is based on “keeping our promises” and making sure “none of our customers fail”.

“Almost everyone I speak to, who has worked with Cambridge, feels the same way.”

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust became the first UK site to install Epic’s patient record software in October 2014 with a much anticipated “big bang” implantation. 

In September this year, the trust was put in special measures by government regulator Monitor, which said the trust's £200 million e-hospital programme had caused "significant cost increases", while benefits had not been realised.

The Care Quality Commission has also highlighted serious safety and quality issues at the trust, including several related to the e-hospital programme. The report triggered the resignation of trust chief executive Dr Keith McNeil.

However, in October the trust became only the third in the UK to achieve HIMSS EMRAM Stage 6, alongside St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Croydon Health Services NHS Trust, both customers of Epic’s arch rival Cerner.

Faulkner argues that what makes Cambridge unique in the UK is the breadth and depth of use of the software.  “The usage in Cambridge is much more in-depth, there is a really deep penetration of use.” 

She also questioned whether the authors of the Monitor report had the full picture.

“I’ve asked: ‘why are the reports the way they are?’ and the answer I’m given is, ‘when they ask people about things they don’t check whether the things they say are accurate or inaccurate’. 

“Therefore, an answer of a person who might not know how to use something might come across as if the system doesn’t do it or there’s something wrong with it, whereas perhaps that person may need to learn how to do it,” she said.

“But when it’s published, because they don’t differentiate whether that is true or not true, with a new system it’s going to get the wrong concepts across.”

Faulkner acknowledged there were teething problems at Cambridge, but said these were completely normal. 

“Were there some bumps? Yes of course.  There are with every install, but those are things that as a little time passes get fixed up and I don’t know the reason why it didn’t get recognised as such.”

She argued that Cambridge is already one of the most digitally advanced trusts in the UK, but this has not yet been recognised.

“I think they are already there.  In terms of being recognised, I think that’s the press and how the press works in the UK,” she said.

 “It would be good if people could recognise what Cambridge is doing and how many really good things are coming out of Cambridge.”

Questioned on whether the departure of McNeil will deter other NHS leaders from making similar digital investments, Faulkner said: “I hope it does not.  I think the NHS has significant challenges.

“They have to be able to take some big strides to get to a different place, otherwise they will just continue to get into difficulties on financials and quality of care.”

She also argued that Epic was competitively priced and that in the case of Cambridge it was only part of the total £200m eHospital cost.

“We are just a fifth of the cost of equipment and infrastructure in that project, and whatever system you choose you will need to have a lot of hardware, training and people.”

The bottom line, she said, is that implementing comprehensive sophisticated clinical software to drive down costs and improve patient care requires significant investment, irrespective of the supplier.

Faulkner was in London to lead a team demonstrating as part of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s electronic patient record procurement.

Read a profile of Judy Faulkner in Features.