The American Dream doesn’t always begin on a farm with cows to milk and hay to bale. Sometimes it starts with a life that is, by most standards, just normal. Judy Faulkner was raised in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and graduated from Moorestown Friends School in 1961. Her father, Louis Greenfield, was a pharmacist, a factor that helped forge Faulkner’s interest in healthcare. Faulkner’s ambition was no doubt shaped by her mother, Del Greenfield, who, despite graduating from high school at the age of 15 with straight As, never attended college.
“Only later did she realize she could have gotten in for free because she was such a good student,” Faulkner said in reflection, “and I think that really made her sad.”
But Judy Faulkner didn’t want any such regrets. She graduated from Dickinson College with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a master’s degree in computer science. Judy Faulkner wasn’t going to pass up any opportunity that came her way. While at graduate school, she took what was likely “the first-ever computers in medicine course offered in the world.” That was unknown territory back then, but Faulkner wasn’t afraid to tackle something new.
While still in graduate school, Faulkner met John Greist, then chief resident in medicine at the university. He was searching for an efficient scheduling method for on-call doctors. Faulkner saw another opportunity and had the answer—a punch-card system that could create an annual schedule in just 18 seconds, and for only $5. The project took her several weeks and many long nights. “When she said she was going to do it, she meant she was going to do it,” Greist later said of her.
After graduating, Faulkner remained at the university to work on a database for tracking patient information, and in 1979, Faulkner and Greist began a company that would eventually become Epic Systems. They borrowed from family and friends—and against their homes—to launch Human Services Computing. Faulkner was the company’s first president and wrote all the original code from a basement in Madison. Like most fledgling companies, it wasn’t glamorous. There was some furniture, some cheap desks, and not much else. “We just got a lot of paint and painted it different shades of purple,” Faulkner recalled.
Founding Epic the Right Way
From the beginning, Faulkner knew that she would never build the company with venture capital or private equity. She would build it her way, the right way, regardless of how much more time it would take. In true homegrown American Dream fashion, she got to work and poured her heart into the company, ensuring that it would stand on a foundation of doing good with good products—not making money for investors.
“Why do we want people whose primary interest in us is return on equity rather than ‘Are you building a good product? Is it helping the people?’” Faulkner said. “If you are publicly traded, then your legal fiduciary duty is to increase shareholder value. We think our duty is to keep patients healthy.”
An Epic Impact on Patients
Epic Systems has grown to more than 10,000 employees and is still privately held and self-sufficient; they have never acquired another company! Though few people have ever heard of Epic, they are in essence the Apple of US healthcare IT. By 2019, Epic held medical records of over 200 million people. And by 2022, hospitals that were using Epic software held medical records of 78% of US patients.
Epic has been at the forefront of EMR (electronic medical record) technology as well as other areas within healthcare IT. Most of the biggest hospitals and health systems in the US use Epic software, including Kaiser Permanente, the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and all Mayo Clinic campuses. To say that Epic has impacted healthcare and especially the live of patients is an understatement! Having effective software is an important part of achieving good outcomes in healthcare, and Faulkner and Epic have done well to provide that software and much more.
Epic Software and Epic Stories
But to Faulkner, Epic is about more than creating important healthcare IT software, and healthcare IT is about more than just collecting patient health data. “I absolutely believe in the power of the story,” she says. “And so many people don’t understand that, especially in the tech field. . . . You have to tell the story. The ‘why’ behind it.”
The American Dream has always been about stories—humble tales that swell into great narratives. And each medical record—each life—that Epic’s software holds is a story waiting to be told. Judy Faulkner’s story is really no different. She seized the opportunity and, from her own modest tale, has woven a great American epic.