we reviewed a new health app called Practice Fusion, a free, web-based EMR (electronic medical record) system for physicians. This week Practice Fusion announced an investment, amount not disclosed, by salesforce.com. They also announced the upcoming launch of their patient health record (PHR) application on Force.com, salesforce.com's cloud computing platform. With these announcements, now seems an appropriate time for a check-up of Practice Fusion. How is its own health and what are the implications of partnering with salesforce.com?One year ago
One year after our initial review, the company is still going strong. The product was being promoted in August 2008 as a 'Google Apps for doctors', providing patient management, scheduling, secure email and more. However, as we pointed out in our article last year, Practice Fusion is not a competitor to Google Health. Practice Fusion is a physician-centered tool, whereas Google Health and the other bigco services are patient-centered.
Practice Fusion currently has "over 18,000 users," which would appear to be a big increase on the 1,300 medical professionals they had one year ago. The product originally launched in November of 2007, so it's nearly two years old now.
Is Cloud Computing Suitable for Healthcare?
A post on the Practice Fusion blog today asks the question: is "cloud computing" right for health IT? We reported earlier this week that cloud computing is infiltrating virtually every corner of technology right now, but it still has dangers. We noted the recent hacking of Google Docs to steal internal Twitter documents, as one recent high profile example (high profile because the stolen documents were subsequently emailed to some news outlets, some of whom published the 'hot' docs).
However despite these risks Practice Fusion claims that the cost benefits of cloud computing in healthcare are significant, particularly in its EMR niche:
"Cost and poor usability have been cited as the biggest obstacles to adoption of health IT - especially Electronic Health Records (EHR) systems - and has resulted in problematically-low EHR adoption rates. Eliminating this cost, and the IT maintenance burdens that are often beyond the reach of small medical practices, clearly removes these significant roadblocks to EHR adoption."
Security and safety is of course the big potentially negative issue with cloud computing. But Practice Fusion points to several use cases where it says that cloud computing has advantages over desktop apps: disaster-recovery, hacks (because "SaaS providers are able to devote resources to solving security issues that many customers cannot afford"), and privacy. All of those points come down to the premise that a cloud computing / SaaS specialist, such as Practice Fusion, has more expertise, more resources, and is generally better able to deliver those safety and security requirements.
That all sounds great in theory, however every case like the Twitter stolen documents one serves to undermine that argument. And there are just too many such cases right now.
Nevertheless, we're sure that over time cloud computing will become ever more secure. It's clear that Practice Fusion is a young company that is growing well. With Salesforce.com on its side too now, the future looks secure for them.