Practice Fusion’s free software shows ads to doctors, like this one from Dell.
While Practice Fusion is still no medical Facebook, that appears to be the direction the company would like to move in. Executives say that within a year it will begin offering free software to patients, letting them view their records and even add to them. It also hopes to open the software platform to outside app developers.
Nurse practitioner Denis Tarrant is one of Practice Fusion’s users. When he started his house-call business in New York City in 2002, he lugged shoulder bags packed with paper medical charts on the subway. These days, 17,000 house calls later, Tarrant travels light. Flipping open an iPad, he can pull up the EMR of an elderly client, then zoom in to view results of blood tests, jot down notes, and order prescriptions.
The EMR field is still dominated by vendors selling costly systems installed by high-priced consultants. Tarrant, a board member of the New York State Nurse Practitioner Association, says that before choosing Practice Fusion he priced out systems listed at $40,000 to install plus $1,500 per month per user, in addition to $1,750 in training fees. “I couldn’t understand what they were providing that was worth anything near that amount of money,” he says. He decided to invest instead in hiring another nurse practitioner and expanding his business.
Tarrant has now been using Practice Fusion for two years. This summer, the software qualified under the U.S. government incentive program. Because Tarrant treats Medicaid patients, he is now eligible to receive $64,000 paid out over five years for continuing to use it.
Subsidies aside, the appeal of Practice Fusion’s business model stems in part from its use of cloud computing. Its software, as well as all patient data entered by users, is stored centrally on the company’s own computer servers. Users access both the software and the data through a Web browser.
The cloud approach is eliminating hassles for the individual practitioners and small medical practices that currently make up most of the service’s users. “If my software goes down, it’s Practice Fusion’s problem,” Tarrant explains. He has seen the system fail only once in two years. On that occasion, he says, “they fixed it in three hours, for free.”