I spent most of last week at the Epic Users Group meeting and I’m finally recovering. Although I have been to the Epic campus before, this was my first UGM. It was an extraordinary experience.
This year’s theme was Midnight at the Museum. I can only imagine how much work went into putting it up. While most vendor user group meetings I’ve attended have a theme, this was over the top, with many Epic staff dressed as characters from paintings, movies, museum pieces, or historical figures. Although many paid homage to a film with a similar theme – such as cavemen, centurion and security guards – my favorites were those from pictures like “American Gothic” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.
The theme was even used in unexpected ways, including as an explanation for a last-minute replacement of the conference bags they planned to hand out. It’s important to have a sense of humor when the best laid plans don’t pan out, and I give them full credit for following through.
After checking in and collecting my badge and replacement bag, my colleague and I headed to the traditional Campfire event, which is also a “Taste of Epic” and a chance for Epic’s legendary culinary team to shine. The menu included pulled pork, two types of stuffed grape leaves, shrimp with tortilla chips, and fried lotus root. I had never tried the latter and was pleasantly surprised. The campfires are real and there were s’mores stations, but I opted for the deconstructed s’more approach to avoid the heat since it was already unusually warm for the season. The banana pudding did not disappoint. There were many Epic executives talking to the attendees.
Monday morning I was up bright and early for the commute to campus because I wasn’t sure what the traffic would be like. Although they run shuttle buses from most of the hotels connected to the conference, I decided to drive myself due to some commitments after the conference. It was an easy trip. After breakfast we dived straight in for educational sessions.
I like the format of Epic better than other conferences I’ve attended. Most sessions are 40 minutes long to allow for a 30-minute presentation, 10-minute Q&A, and then a 20-minute debriefing period. This is a good length that forces presenters to be short and focused and allows them to attend more presentations instead of longer ones. Some of the sessions presented by Epic are longer because they go deeper into the functionality, but they still felt well-paced. The audiovisual setup in the presentation rooms was solid, with most rooms having double projection of the presenters’ slides.
Lunch was my first trip to the ‘Tent’ which can only be described as huge. There was outdoor seating via picnic tables and high tables along with lawn games. Inside, there was a huge amount of seating along with various museum exhibits, photo opportunities, costumed staff, and enough buffet lines to keep the thousands of attendees moving. I appreciated the nod to sustainability with refillable water bottles and easily accessible gas stations along with recycling bins wherever trash cans are located. The short walk from the classrooms to the tent was a nice excuse to get out and enjoy some fresh air and the beautiful blue sky.
After lunch I spent a few minutes browsing some of the local vendors that were set up in one of the common areas. Vendors sampled cheese, chocolate, and of course mustard since the National Mustard Museum is just a short distance from campus.
In the afternoon I stopped by the exhibition hall, which I really liked. Half the space was filled with Epic’s “Meet the Experts” booths, where attendees could connect with developers and other key personnel for each of the products. I’ve been to other user meetings where the development and product teams pretty much hid from the attendees. It was great to see so many good conversations and many ideas being exchanged. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the ideas I’ve heard discussed make their way into the software.
The other thing that is different about the showroom is the vendor space. Each vendor has the same size booth and they are relatively the same. It’s more about substance than glitz, and the smaller format was conducive to conversation. I had a good conversation with IMO (Intelligent Medical Objects) and enjoyed their personalized M&M giveaway as an afternoon pick-me-up. As always, the Healthwise team were friendly and engaging and I enjoyed learning about the volunteer service that one of their representatives does in his spare time.
Tuesday morning featured an executive address that was definitely something to watch. Thousands of customers fill the Deep Space Auditorium and many organizations bring decorated umbrellas, balloons and signs to allow colleagues to find each other to sit together. All presenters were dressed in a manner related to their presentations, with several teams recreating famous paintings. Part of the presentation involves introducing all the new customers and Epic chooses a song for each that is associated with their name or location.
I wasn’t surprised to see some of my former consulting clients join the Epic community, and I’m certainly looking forward to collaborating with them on a new adventure. No matter where I’ve worked, the informatics community is full of people willing to share best practices and work together to improve care for our patients and communities.
Dr. Jane’s Best in Show Provider Award goes to Nemours KidsHealth, who always come up with sweet giveaways. This year they had mummy shaped chocolates to match the museum theme. I mentioned their HIMSS giveaway for insulated grocery bags and their rep offered to send one to my teammate, which was sweet. The rep was entertaining and definitely got our attention. The Nemours booth was next to Iron Bridge, whose representatives were also engaging and entertaining. The two poked fun at each other along with the Nemours representative, which was fun to watch. I’ve worked in the conference booth in a past life and it can be exhausting, so kudos to these three for keeping it fun. They were still at the same energy level later in the week, which was impressive.
Kudos also to the Epic customer service desk who happily provided an ice pack for my colleague’s sore leg. She had injured it before the event and struggled through the week, although she did use a cow-print golf cart to get to her car at the end of a particularly long day. I know I walked over 19 miles and talked to what seemed like a thousand different clinical informatics professionals while learning dozens of things I want to take home and apply. I have numerous presentations to review as there were often several interesting sessions going on at the same time. Our team has done their best to divide and rule, so we still need to merge our notes and share all thoughts and ideas.
When I’ve written about visiting Epic in the past, readers have commented on the cost of the campus. However, in talking with a few friends who work in marketing and trade shows, being able to host large events on your own property is a smart play. They don’t pay exorbitant convention center fees year after year, but rather can invest those costs into their own infrastructure. They don’t have staff flying all over the country, and their in-house culinary team delivers the best conference food I’ve ever come across, probably at a fraction of what vendors pay for hotel and convention catering. They don’t pay to entertain big names or hire keynote speakers. Everything about the event just screams “good clean fun and you’ll learn something too”.
What is the best or worst vendor conference you have attended and why? Leave a comment or email me.
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