3 things we learned at the 2018 Epic App Orchard conference

Earlier this week, myself and another member of the Arcweb team attended the second Epic App Orchard Conference on the Epic Systems campus in Verona, Wisconsin. As an App Orchard partner that focuses on improving the user / patient experience for its health services partners, we’ve taken a keen interest in the marketplace for Epic apps and how it fits into the overall healthtech ecosystem.

For those unfamiliar with the world of healthcare IT, Epic Systems is one of the largest vendors for electronic health record (EHR) systems – their software is used to track patient records and clinical information in hundreds of hospitals, including all 20 of U.S. News’s top hospitals. App Orchard, meanwhile, is Epic’s answer to the “app store” concept – a marketplace that lets hospitals expand the capabilities of their EHR system by working with third-party app developers (including Arcweb).

As one of Arcweb’s Software Architects, I attended the conference to learn and better understand what resources are available to us as application developers as well as to understand the evolution of the ecosphere that is the Epic App Orchard.

Lasting two and a half days, the event was content-packed and well attended both by app developers and Epic customers. The speakers—a mix of app developers, Epic program managers, and engineers—were open and accessible.

Here are a few of our big takeaways from the event.

App Orchard is Built for Scale

The App Orchard launched last year with just 14 apps. For just over a year now, Epic has been building out the infrastructure supporting partners and developers. This year, the App Orchard has grown to 114 apps. Epic is also investing in test environments and dedicated Technical Support staff to help industry members navigate app development within the Epic and App Orchard ecosystem.

This is an important resource for app developers, because it means that the burden of integration testing will be lighter, allowing developers to focus the majority of their time on what they do best – develop products to help people – and shorten the time-to-implementation significantly.

Healthcare in Partnership with Social Services

Looking through the user features provided by 114 apps available to Epic customers, a significant number focus on connecting medical providers and social services. This is part of an overall trend in healthcare that sees the combination of traditional healthcare systems with holistic approaches to care, and a growing emphasis on providing post-encounter care that focuses on the patient’s social needs.

The criticality of this approach (and its emphasis on increasing patient engagement post-care) is immediately apparent if you look at the adoption of these social service-related App Orchard apps by major healthcare systems.

One such example is Unite Us, which develops care coordination software that helps healthcare providers coordinate with social services. Thanks to App Orchard, Unite Us’s software now integrates directly with Epic, and the company announced that it has just been adopted by the entire state of North Carolina.

Another example is Aunt Bertha, which helps identify and connect patients with housing, food, health, legal, education, and other services. Their Epic-compatible software has been deployed to LinkNYC tablets in all five boroughs and is now partnering with health systems to provide the very same to patients.

Kit and APIs are Critical Toolsets for App Developers

Throughout the conference, Epic emphasized its commitment to two specific toolsets: Kit and Caboodle.

Caboodle is Epic’s data warehouse platform – it pulls in patient health records from disparate data sources from within (and outside) of a healthcare system. Kit, meanwhile, sits atop the data warehouse and provides a standardized and critical toolset for data extraction.

This capability is essential for app development. Moreover, the standardized Kit toolset provides app developers with the ability to replicate and provide uniform app functionality across multiple Epic customers.

Epic’s commitment to Kit and Caboodle was strongly emphasized at the conference – which is good news for developers, who rely on these toolsets to access the sea of patient data collected by Epic’s software.

What’s next for App Orchard

Epic also rolled out a collection of non-software related changes to App Orchard, including a new membership structure and other tweaks. Epic doesn’t yet have an announcement up about all the changes, but for now you can learn more at Epic’s App Orchard page.