Written by: John Lynn
It must have been a couple years ago when I first heard about a Free EMR called Practice Fusion. Shortly after hearing about this Free EMR, I got a note saying that Practice Fusion had a Live in Five program that would get a practice live on the Practice Fusion EMR in 5 minutes. Check out my initial reaction to the Practice Fusion Live in Five program from early 2009.
Since that point, I’d wanted to try out this Live in Five challenge to see really how much I could get started in Five minutes with Practice Fusion. I still have the email from 9/15/09 when I first wanted to try this. Suffice it to say that I’ve been sufficiently busy with all the talk of the EMR stimulus that I hadn’t taken the chance to try it out myself. Plus, when I did it, I wanted to do a good job. Especially since I knew it would take more than 5 minutes.
Well, tomorrow I’m heading to the Practice Fusion user group meeting to meet with the people at Practice Fusion and to do some interviews for the XM Radio station ReachMD. That should be fun and you’ll certainly hear more about the interviews later. Since I was going to the Practice Fusion user group, I figured it was time to try the Live in Five challenge and see what I could do. So, that’s what I did.
I started at their standard Practice Fusion EMR sign up page. It’s free so I filled out their simple forms. I think the whole sign up process only took me 2-3 minutes. Granted, I’m pretty fast with computers and online forms. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t let me choose my own username and my own PracticeID. I’m not sure there reasoning with this, but likely it would take people longer to come up with their own. It’s just hard for me to remember the username jlynn677. Plus, it takes me back to the days of AOL, and that’s not pretty. Although, this wasn’t a huge problem for me since I was only using one computer and it remembered the info for me.
As any good system would do, it made me use a more complex password. Yes, I deliberately used an easy one to see what it would do. Good thing it asked me to make it more complex. Annoying for many users, but definitely necessary. I also specified myself as a doctor so I could test the doctor interface.
Well, I was quickly logged in and the first thing I see after logging in is the Practice Fusion training page. I must admit that I was touch overwhelmed by all the training videos. Although, I also was glad there was so many and that I could train at my own rate on whichever features I wanted to train on.
I had to get a taste for the videos and so I clicked the first one to see what they were like. The pace of the video was a bit slow for me, but I could see how this would be extremely beneficial to a new user of the system. The only problem is that the video was cutting into my 5 minute test very quickly. So, I clicked off the video to go and click around the system on my own. I figured the videos would be there later if I couldn’t figure something out myself.
Once I started clicking around I saw this layer of tabs to choose from. As I clicked on each one I was a little confused why these prominent tabs were all for things like To Do List (which was empty of course), Community, Forums, Activity Feed, etc. I was looking for schedule, patients, and charts. Took me a minute to realize that the other buttons above those tabs would get me where I really wanted to go. I guess I’m just so use to tabs being the navigation.
I did notice a prominent button that I thought would be very useful. It was a link to a Live Chat with a support specialist. I’m kind of arrogant like that and wasn’t sure I wanted to ask for help, but I was glad to know it was there in case I needed help of some sort.
Of course, this was well past the five minute mark. I certainly had been logged in and provisioned on the Practice Fusion EMR in well under five minutes, but as I expected it would take longer than five minutes for me to do a good walk through of their EMR.
I then proceeded to check out the Schedule section. It took me to a “Daily Calendar” section which was of course empty. I started to look around for a button to add an appointment (since I assumed there weren’t any). I even right clicked on the grid to try and add an appointment. The right click revealed the all too familiar Flash Player options. Something that I would see multiple times as I tested the system. I guess I’m just too used to right clicking.
I decided the Daily Calendar didn’t have the option to add an appointment and so I clicked on the Weekly Calendar tab and it worked as expected for scheduling an appointment. I would have loved to have a quick patient creation area when creating the appointment, but overall it was pretty easy to schedule an appointment. It was funny when I was trying to select the patient for the appointment, I went to the bottom right corner of the screen to click the OK (or in this case Select) button. Turns out, I almost clicked on the ad that had a button like image on it. Then, I realized that the Select button I wanted was at the top instead of the bottom.
I also tried to drag and drop the appointment to a new time, but sadly no dice there. I guess Flash doesn’t support drag and drop like that very well? I did like how the patient had a space for an email so it could send an email reminder. I wonder if text message reminders are next.
I then played a bit more with the schedule and found it pretty straightforward. After going back to the Daily Schedule (which now had the appointment I made) I saw a drop down for status. I marked my patient as Arrived and the Status drop down box changed to a new set of statuses. I thought this was really cool, because it only presented you the statuses that you would need. I’m not sure how you’d go back if you changed the status on the wrong one though.
Now with an appointment scheduled it was time to check out the chart for that patient and start a note. I clicked on the hyper-linked name of the patient in my “Daily Schedule” and was taken to the chart. I was a little confused by where it sent me. It was basically a history page of what had been done on the patient. I saw a lot of other options to click, but I was surprised this was the page I got clicking into the patient chart.
I later realized that I should have clicked on the hyper-linked date and it would have taken me to the note in the chart for that day. Although, since I didn’t I must admit that I was searching for a little while to find out where I could create a note for the patient. I finally found the note listed under the title “Events” with today’s date. That felt a little awkward to me.
Before finding the note, I did see a bunch of history items like PMH, Dx History, Rx list, Allergies, etc. I did find the allergies a bit confusing since it was under the PMH (free text) and then there was a separate tab for Allergies (very specific) and they weren’t tied together in any way. If I have a medical history of allergies shouldn’t that go under my allergies? I think they showed both at other places in the chart, but deciding where to add the allergies and how to add them would be important.
Turns out the Allergies were confusing, but there was a link that said “Learn to add allergies” and so I clicked it and it took me to a training video for allergies. Only problem was the training video was for the allergies tab and I was on the PMH tab. So, it took me a minute to figure out that there were the 2 places. Although, the video introduced me to the other area. Balancing free text entry of allergies with specific allergies are a challenge for every EMR. Not to mention even harder with the Rx list. For example, I didn’t see a way in Practice Fusion to enter some Chinese Herbal Medication in the list. One that’s not likely in the database. Let alone if the patient says, I’m taking the pink pill. I’m not sure how I’d have documented that in the Rx List in Practice Fusion.
I like how simple and easy to use the SOAP note was in Practice Fusion. It was really straight forward to go in and chart items. Not to mention how easy it was to add your own templates to any section of the SOAP note. I did wonder if any of the vital signs section could be adjusted, added to or modified. It certainly has the base needs, but I know in the clinic I worked in we had a pretty customized intake process for collecting vital signs. For example, our intake asked questions based on the gender (ie. last pap smear for females). I didn’t see any sort of advanced templating like this in the documentation areas. Maybe I just missed it.
I did like the way the dxn sections worked and the integrated ePrescribing. In fact, even with my 30 minutes in, I prescribed a drug and sent it to ePrescribing. Yeah, I had to see what would happen if I tried to ePrescribe since it gave me the option. The system then told me that I needed to fax in a form to get ePrescribing set up and I had a link to download the form (which I think was already filled in with my info). I was glad that it wouldn’t let me ePrescribe, and it was pretty slick to prompt me to sign up for ePrescribing that way.
I also found the script printing page to work really well. You had options to add or remove the signature section or header section of the script. This is a good feature if you prefer to use a stamp or are printing on letterhead already.
The signing of the note was easy and straightforward. I of course wondered how and if I’d be able to make corrections to the note after it was signed. At first I couldn’t find anything, but then in a bit of an obscure location, I found an “Addendum” button that allowed me to add a comment to a signed note.
I did wonder how I’d chart a note for that patient for say a phone call. I didn’t see an easy way in the chart to create a simple note like this. I’m guessing it must be done from some other screen, but I didn’t see a way.
I liked the Document Management functions built into Practice Fusion. They were quite slick and I love the way that you can sign off documents. The upload process was easy. On my first upload I completely missed the section to assign the uploaded document to a patient. So, later I had to figure out how to assign it after upload. Not a big deal once I figured out where I missed it.
I was missing the Fax Management section. I’d seen a button to Fax a referral earlier and so I wondered how they dealt with faxes. I knew there had to be an answer so I clicked that “Live Help” button to get an answer to my question. Plus, I must admit that I wondered how quickly they would respond and how the Live Help would work.
After a minute or two I got a live person who told me that they only do outgoing Fax Referrals. They didn’t have any feature for incoming faxes yet. That’s too bad since it would have been a killer feature. Although, a fax server is still killer and easy to set up in an office. I also asked the support person about bulk upload of documents and they said I could only upload one at a time. Not a horrible thing, but I could see bulk upload being a useful feature. Then, just assign them after the bulk upload.
One problem with the chat with the Live Support person was that the chat took over my whole Practice Fusion browser session and I couldn’t do anything while we were chatting. The tech person that I am, I decided to open up a new Practice Fusion window on my other monitor. Plus, that would be a good test if I wanted to have 2 windows open at the same time.
Only problem was that once I logged into the new window, the old window logged out. Yep, I guess you can only have one browser session logged in at a time. I even tried to lock the browser session (which is a nice feature) and then log into another browser window. Once I logged back into the locked browser session, I was kicked out again since I had opened the other session. So much for having 2 windows open with Practice Fusion.
Second Login Configuration
I did find it really interesting what happened the second time I logged into Practice Fusion. It gave me a series of screens to configure. Simple things like address, phone, etc of my location. It also asked about any lab interfaces I might need. Definitely a good idea to wait until the second time I logged in to ask me these things.
I also wanted to see what kind of configuration options were available. I thought that it would be utterly overwhelming, but it really wasn’t. Pretty straightforward stuff and easy to add new users, new payers, new facilities, etc. If anything, I wonder if it might need more options.
Overall Thoughts on Practice Fusion EMR
About an hour and twenty minutes later I completed my perusal of Practice Fusion’s EHR. A little longer than the 5 minutes, but that was to be expected. An hour and twenty minutes on my own to go through an EMR is pretty good. I think I could log in right now and easily schedule a patient, chart a note and get them their scripts, referrals etc with no problem. I’d say that’s a pretty simple design.
I do wonder if I’d hit a wall when it came to how simple it is. I wonder if there are other features I’d be wishing they had that they don’t yet have implemented. I’ll be asking some of the doctors that I meet tomorrow this question.
I’m sure this is very purposeful on Practice Fusion’s part, but the EMR is pretty much void of billing. I think I saw one button that said “Send Superbill.” So, I’m mostly evaluating it on the EMR basis and not the billing portion. My understanding is that they work with a Practice Management System for this. I’ll find out more on this tomorrow as well.
As far as the ads, they really weren’t that intrusive. It was fun to see who they had advertising. I saw a few Dell ads along with what looks like an IT consultant that specializes in supporting Practice Fusion implementations. Not to mention a number of pharmaceutical ads and an ad for their user conference tomorrow.
Overall, I found Practice Fusion simple and intuitive to use. There is certainly room for improvement in usability in some aspects of the design, but I didn’t find anything that was too hard to figure out. The fact that it’s a SaaS based EHR bodes well for future development of features and usability as well. Plus, for the price (Free), it’s definitely worth an hour and 20 minute test drive to see for yourself.
Full Disclosure: Practice Fusion is an advertiser on this site and is paying for my flight and hotel to attend their user group meeting as a moderator and for the ReachMD interviews. Although, they didn’t pay me to do this review.