Practice Fusion is a startup making waves in the health 2.0 market. The product is a free, web-based EMR (electronic medical record) system for physicians. It runs in the browser and has been marketed as a 'Google Apps for doctors', providing patient management, scheduling, secure email and more.
The business model is largely serving ads, which allows the product to be free - although users can pay
$250 $100 per month for an ad-free version. The company has just announced it has signed up 1,300 medical professionals since launch in November of 2007 and is currently serving "more than a quarter million patients."
Google Health, Microsoft's Healthvault and Revolution Health. Although as we'll see below, Practice Fusion is a different product to those of Google and Microsoft. The key difference is in the target market: Practice Fusion is for professionals (doctors), while the big guns are targeting consumers.Online healthcare is a market with some big-spending competitors - including
Privacy Pain Point?
Apart from the ads, Practice Fusion also makes money by selling anonymized patient and doctor data from its system to third parties. Before the privacy advocates among us have heart attacks, the company says that it in both business models, it maintains strict privacy standards - in particular HIPAA compliance (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). In a recent New York Times article, Practice Fusion CEO Ryan Howard stated that their system doesn't collect "the names or other personally identifiable information of patients".
In terms of the technical side of Practice Fusion, Adobe evangelist and all-round RIA expert Ryan Stewart looked into it back in March. After noting that it uses Adobe's Flex in the user interface, Ryan pointed out that historically EMR software has been expensive and painful:
"...there are huge costs associated with adding an EMR system. The major players; Misys and Nextgen cost a ton of money and manpower to implement. Practice Fusion on the other hand, is free, browser-based and has a relatively low barrier to entry."
Ease of use is to the fore in Practice Fusion's promotion materials; the company claims that users will be up and running in just 5 minutes ("live in five"). There's not much argument from us that a low-cost, streamlined browser service like Practice Fusion has a lot of potential. Although it will face the same issues that Google Apps has in the office software market - security, scalability, whether it's appropriate to host sensitive data in the cloud, and so on. Practice Fusion is targting small physician practices, which indicates that there's a long way to go before its solution will be viable for larger organisations, such as hospitals.
For more details about the Practice Fusion product, check out this article on healthcare epistemocrat.
Don't Call Them Consumers!
One of the interesting differences between how Practice Fusion is marketing its product and how Google is marketing Google Health, is in how they view the 'users'. Google CEO Eric Schmidt raised the ire of Practice Fusion's management in a recent speech at HIMMS. Advisory board member Graham Walker scolded Dr Schmidt in a blog post:
"Please stop calling patients consumers. Patients are people with illnesses or injuries who need medical care; consumers are people who purchase goods or services and are informed about what they're purchasing. (Most patients are not actively dictating what health care resources they're consuming.) Note: there are certainly consumers of health information, but a person who comes to me seeking medical attention is not a consumer. He or she is a patient."
Walker also claims that "the medical record is not the patient's property." He thinks that the model to use for the medical record in the Web era is 'shared control' - i.e. "the patient controls who sees the information in their medical record, but the patient's physician controls the actual information."
It does appear that Practice Fusion is a physician-centered tool, whereas Google Health and the other bigco services are consumer-centered - sorry, patient-centered. So I'm not sure it's accurate to portray Practice Fusion as a competitor to Google Health. Regular people can't even use Practice Fusion, it's a product for doctors and their staff.
It's good to see that a simple, web-based office management service is ramping up well in the health sector. But it's early days yet and the product hasn't made a splash in big markets.