DMBN Web Exclusive: Can you demonstrate meaningful use and pocket the stimulus check?

DMBN Web Exclusive: Can you demonstrate meaningful use and pocket the stimulus check?

by Olga Deshchenko, DOTmed News Reporter | February 07, 2011
Dr. Robert Rowley
From the January/February issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Although some studies doubt the benefits of electronic health records to patient care, the transition of the health care system to the technology is well on its way.

Some providers are eligible for up to $44,000 of incentives, which in theory should offset the cost of the health IT investment, but one company says you can have your cake and eat it, too.

DOTmed News spoke with Dr. Robert Rowley, the chief medical officer of San Francisco-based Practice Fusion, about the company’s free, web-based EHR service. Dubbed the "Superman/Clark Kent” of the office by the company’s staff, Rowley divides his time between Practice Fusion and a family practice. He talked about the philosophy behind the company's service and the elements that make up this Web-based EHR.

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How did you come up with the idea to offer a free, Web-based electronic health record?

It actually evolved over the last couple of years. We started out by combining two different companies. One was a company that I had built which was a local EHR for primary care physicians, and another was our CEO Ryan [Howard’s] vision of something that could be free to physician end-users, subsidized by alternative revenue streams -- similar to how to Yahoo Mail or Google Mail offer free services, but make money off other revenues, primarily advertising.

We merged the ideas together and realized that particularly small physicians are pretty overwhelmed by the prospect of installing EHRs that are locally based. That means they have to worry about having servers, software, having a network, security, backup –- all the things that make it impossible for small practices to really adopt.

We pioneered the whole concept and the whole space of Web-based services being a place that’s legitimate for health IT. We had the challenge of building adequate security and privacy around that. Fortunately, we’ve got the experience of about 20 years worth of Internet banking to learn our lessons from. We were able to build something that is highly secure and always up and functional and relieving the physician of the worry how to locally secure PHI...As a result of that, we’ve been wildly successful. We just passed the 6 million-patient mark and the 60,000-user mark. We’re still adding a couple of hundred users a day.

Who makes up your user base?

Our sweet spot has been the small physician practices, generally less than 10 physicians. They’re often not affiliated with any particular institution but they’re just out there [spread out throughout the country], which is where, still even today 70 to 80 percent of health care is delivered. These are physicians who aren’t necessarily in big systems that supply some large system to them. They’re facing the need to do something themselves and they’ve adopted our product very enthusiastically.