Storing medical records in the cloud also means doctors can access them from anywhere, says Andrew Bronstein, an orthopedic surgeon who uses Practice Fusion at the clinic he runs in Las Vegas. Whether he’s at the office, at home, or at “some hotel computer on vacation in Mexico,” he says, “I am 15 seconds away from looking at a medical record.”
Practice Fusion won’t disclose whether it is profitable yet. The company’s main goal appears to try to grow as quickly as possible. Chief medical officer Robert Rowley, a general practitioner who still sees patients two days a week, says that within a year the company plans to introduce software for consumers as well, “so that you, the patient, can log in … see your allergies and immunizations, your medications and lab results.”
Practice Fusion’s one-size-fits-all software is not yet the dominant EMR platform in the United States. Currently, more patient records overall are stored in systems sold by established vendors that install complex, highly customized software for large hospital systems.
Practice Fusion thinks it may jump ahead by copying software strategies used by sites like Facebook and Google Maps, including adopting an open API (application programming interface) that could let anyone develop apps that connect to its software platform. For instance, Rowley imagines patients using apps written by outside companies to upload personal health data from glucose monitors or bathroom scales. All those data flows could be “monetized,” says Rowley, although exactly how remains unclear.
Last year, Practice Fusion sponsored a developer challenge, letting programmers go to work on 15,000 medical records in which identifying information had been removed. The winner, medical student John Schrom, created an app to track how diseases spread across the country. “Opening APIs has unleashed huge creativity in other industries,” notes Matthew Holt, a health-care IT consultant based in San Francisco.
However, Practice Fusion doesn’t yet allow outsiders to crunch its patient data, says Rowley. The company is still trying to work out ways to make data available to apps, researchers, and other companies, while protecting patient privacy. The company is patenting some of its ideas, but rules for transmitting patient records over the Internet—or analyzing them with apps—are still unclear, or nonexistent.
That means it might take a while for Practice Fusion, or anyone else, to become the Facebook of medical records. “There is a lot of policy discussion, and will continue to be, about how the government regulates the transmission and use of patients’ private information,” says Rowley. “We are cognizant we are custodians of data for physicians.”