HIMSS23: Epic taps Microsoft to integrate generative AI into EHRs with Stanford, UC San Diego as early adopters

CHICAGO—As the use of generative AI in healthcare starts to get off the ground, health IT giant Epic tapped Microsoft to integrate large language model tools and AI into its electronic health record software.

Microsoft and Epic have collaborated for a number of years and the two companies are now expanding their partnership to focus on combining the Azure OpenAI Service with Epic’s EHR software. The aim is to harness generative AI to help healthcare providers increase productivity with less administrative burden while shifting their focus to patient care, the two organizations said.

One of the initial solutions is already underway with UC San Diego Health, UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, and Stanford Health Care among the first organizations starting to deploy enhancements to automatically draft message responses.

“A good use of technology simplifies things related to workforce and workflow,” said Chero Goswami, chief information officer at UW Health in a statement. “Integrating generative AI into some of our daily workflows will increase productivity for many of our providers, allowing them to focus on the clinical duties that truly require their attention.”

Another solution will bring natural language queries and interactive data analysis to SlicerDicer, Epic's self-service reporting tool, the organizations said.

“Our exploration of OpenAI’s GPT-4 has shown the potential to increase the power and accessibility of self-service reporting through SlicerDicer, making it easier for healthcare organizations to identify operational improvements, including ways to reduce costs and to find answers to questions locally and in a broader context,” said Seth Hain, senior vice president of research and development at Epic, in a statement.

One of the largest EHR vendors, Epic currently has the largest share of acute care hospitals in the U.S. market, at 32.9%, according to KLAS Research. Globally, about 2,130 hospitals use Epic for its medical records software, KLAS reports. Competitor Oracle Cerner holds the top spot with the largest global market share with 2,389 hospitals, according to KLAS.

It's been five months since Microsoft-backed OpenAI released its generative large language model ChatGPT, followed by GPT-4 in March. Now, tech giants and startups are off to the races to test out the potential for LLMs and generative AI tools in medicine, clinical settings and research.

Last week, Google announced it's releasing a version of its medical LLM, called Med-PaLM 2, to a limited group of users. That announcement followed closely on the heels of Microsoft rolling out new generative AI tools embedded in its cloud computing capabilities

Health systems and hospitals are facing intense financial pressure with rising costs and increasingly tight margins. Approximately half of U.S. hospitals finished 2022 with negative margins as widespread workforce shortages and increased labor expenses, as well as supply disruptions and inflationary effects, caused expenses to meaningfully outpace revenue increases, according to data from Kaufman Hall.

Eric Boyd, corporate vice president, AI Platform at Microsoft, sees opportunities to leverage technology to address many of these challenges.

"We can help providers deliver significant clinical and business outcomes leveraging the power of the Microsoft Cloud and Epic," he said.

The tech giant stressed that it is committed to creating responsible AI by design that is "guided by a core set of principles: fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency and accountability." The company says it is taking a "cross-company approach through cutting-edge research, best-of-breed engineering systems and excellence in policy and governance."