I got word through my medical director at work today that the hospital administrators had been contacted by the EPIC electronic health record software company about this post, and demanded that the screenshots of the EPIC user interface be taken down. Offsetting my pride that someone had actually noticed and read my blog was the sudden fear of facing down a multi-billion dollar company armed to the teeth with expensive lawyers. I put the website into emergency Maintenance mode while I considered my options. The post in question, which you can still read sans the controversial screenshots, is a satirical look at EHR/EMRs in general, and the EPIC EHR specifically. I am not a lawyer (nor can I really afford one) but I felt that the use of the screenshots fell under the “Fair Use” doctrine relating to copyright, i.e. a limited non-commercial use for illustrative purposes. It is a time-honored tradition to include a few screenshots in reviews of software, and, despite the tongue-in-cheek nature of my post, it essentially was just that — a review from the point of view of a user. I don’t understand why EPIC is so protective or sensitive about hiding their user interface. After all, if I were reviewing Windows 8, I wouldn’t expect Microsoft to call me up and demand me to pull down a screenshot like this one:
Is EPIC embarrassed or ashamed of their software? Do they feel that vital trade secrets are being exposed by showing a screen that thousands of health care workers stare at every day? Or are they just, as I suspect, control freaks?
I’m just a physician who uses their software. I didn’t publish their source code or put a pirated version up on the Pirate Bay. I’m not Anonymous or WikiLeaks. Having some interest in programming as a hobby I actually admire the enormous effort that went into making a program like EPIC. No software is perfect however and I think the EPIC bosses should be more interested in using feedback and criticism from health care professionals to improve the program rather than spending their time worrying that a screenshot of their user interface is available on the web. The various EHR companies benefited greatly from the stimulus package and by mandates on EHR use for hospitals and physicians. These companies have been big campaign donors and have had soaring profits and stock values since the stimulus. And yet the result has been not-ready-for-prime-time software that is awkward to use, available as mutually incompatible proprietary packages without a standardized format for data exchange and interoperability. And these massive companies who have benefited enormously from our tax dollars have the nerve to threaten those who criticize their software and publish a few bland screenshots. Unfortunately though, with their cash reserves and cadres of lawyers, there is little that EP Studios (cash reserves = $0) can do to stop their bullying.