Written by: John Lynn
Many of you probably realize how much fun I have ragging on the SaaS (hosted) EMR model. I admit that I love playing devil’s advocate. I think that’s what makes me great when working with an EMR, but I digress. What people don’t realize is that I really love the SaaS EMR model and I think it’s just as viable an option as a client server EMR. I just haven’t drank the Kool-aid for either side yet.
With that background, I was excited for the chance to do an interview with one of the biggest fans of the SaaS EMR model, Practice Fusion. In fact, they’ve even taken it one step further in providing a free, ad-based EMR. The following is an email interview I did with Practice Fusion CEO, Ryan Howard.
Give us a summary of Practice Fusion for those who aren’t familiar with the company.
Practice Fusion provides a free, web-based EHR for physicians. We’re the fastest growing electronic health record community in the country, just passing the 20,000 user mark in September. Our system includes charting, scheduling, integrations with lab networks and billing providers, eRx (in October) and unlimited support – all at no cost.
What guarantee do you provide to users that are concerned about their data being stored offsite?
Our guarantee to our physicians is that Practice Fusion provides a level of service that is dramatically higher than they could ever do on their own. From a practice’s perspective, they have access to world-class infrastructure that only a Fortune 500 company could afford. This includes data redundancy, automated back-ups, biometric security, Cisco firewalls and bank-level encryption. For a physician to build this independently would cost millions of dollars.
What about those who might be concerned that Practice Fusion might not be around forever (always a possibility) or will be acquired by another EMR vendor and they’ll be unable to get access to their EMR data to move if they wish?
A practitioner always retains ownership of their data. They can choose to export their data from our system at any time – just as we offer free uploads of data into the EMR, our team will also assist with free exports as requested. This would be true in the highly-unanticipated event of a merger or closure of our system as well.
Do you provide any mechanisms for doctors to take their data from your system and move to another EMR?
Practices using our EHR always retain ownership of their data and can export any time if needed. Just as we offer free imports of data into our system, our support team can also assist with extracting records to be transferred to a different EMR.
What do you tell doctors who are concerned about how they’ll continue seeing patients if their internet goes down?
There’s risk with both paper and electronic methods. Think about what a doctor does in his office with paper records: what happens if the offices burns down or records are stolen?
Internet connectivity is generally a concern for all internet-based models. Practice Fusion has a number of ways to circumvent this issue. While a doctor is using our EHR, data entered about the patient is constantly being saved. If the computer crashes or the internet fails, the visit is automatically saved. The physician can log back in, pick up where the session was lost and continue directly with patient.
Specific to the operations of a practice facing long-term downtime issues with their broadband company: Practice Fusion has partnerships with various hardware providers who offer network redundancy utilities for physicians. For example, these systems can seamlessly transition to a cellular network if there is a broadband issue in the office.
How will Practice Fusion be approaching EHR certification and the billions of dollars in EHR stimulus money?
Practice Fusion is pushing toward HHS certification aggressively. Our physician team – Dr. Laffel and Dr. Rowley – has been working closely with the HIT committee and other thought-leaders throughout the past year to ensure that the final criterion for “meaningful use” reflects what is best for physicians and patients. The criteria for EHR certification are still in development but we’re certain that Practice Fusion’s system will meet the requirements. And, if something emerges that we weren’t expecting in that process, Practice Fusion’s SaaS-based platform allows us a degree of flexibility that other systems can’t match. We’re very comfortable with the certification road ahead.
What effect do you think the EHR stimulus money will have on adoption of EHR software?
It’s the silver bullet. The EHR stimulus incentives are helping to push widespread EHR adoption in a sector that has traditional been hesitant to make the switch away from paper. And, honestly, physicians were hesitant for good reason considering the expensive, bulky, IT-intensive solutions that dominated the market in the past.
Now, things are changing quickly and the market is in a frenzy. Vendor bottlenecks are already becoming an issue with the surge in demand. Traditional EHR systems with 12+ week integration schedules can’t keep up with requests. I see Practice Fusion’s five minute online set-up process, Live in Five, as a big advantage in the market as this tidal wave approaches.
Which standards are Practice Fusion adopting to provide for portability of data between Practice Fusion and other EHR vendors?
Practice Fusion’s open platform accommodates HL7, CCR and XML portability. And as one of the only true SaaS based EHR’s, we can quickly adapt our system as new portability standards emerge.
Practice Fusion will also be launching an innovative new feature called Chart Share at Health 2.0 this fall. This system allows physicians to securely share crucial patient data with other providers at no cost with no integration. It’s a major step toward collaborative care and will allow doctors who don’t have interconnected EHR technology or haven’t made the switch to an EHR to still receive and use digital records in their practice.
Describe 3 specific features which make Practice Fusion special (not including your pricing plan).
- Practice Fusion is the only EHR with a true SaaS-based model. Other vendors – such as eClinicalWorks and Allscripts – claim to be SaaS but in fact use old-school ASP technology.
- Our ‘Live in Five’ set-up process is unique in the market. Physicians who are interested in Practice Fusion’s EHR can sign up online and start charting in five minutes. An entire practice can be set up in a single afternoon. No risks, no consultants, no downtime – fast and simple integration is key.
- I am also proud of Practice Fusion’s advances in connectivity. Physician using our free EHR can access integrated Surescripts along with real-time Quest Diagnostics and BioReference labs within the system. And we’re constantly working on adding new integrations to this list based on our community requests. With Practice Fusion, doctors are set-up with these sophisticated integrations with no cost and no development time.
What technologies and devices do you think will be the future of EMR software?
I fundamentally believe that the only way to solve the problem of national adoption of EMRs is to accommodate physicians through a web or cloud-based platform. Once this is implemented, the benefit will be unprecedented. Central reporting and trending of patients’ chronic conditions will enable providers and caretakers to identify emerging trends and truly perform evidence-based medicine.
What is needed is a unified platform to be a conduit between patients and their doctors. There are a lot of devices – such as Continua and smart phone applications – that monitor patients’ chronic conditions. The challenge is to integrate this data in EMR’s in a meaningful way to improve the quality of care.