Health IT

The electronic medical record as Yelp, OpenTable and Skype

How powerful is the electronic medical record? Practice Fusion will stretch the EMR’s muscles over the next year as it tries to incorporate patient-friendly tools and make the product more social. Think one part Yelp and another part Facebook with a dash of telemedicine. On Sunday night the company will launch a physician review portal […]

How powerful is the electronic medical record? Practice Fusion will stretch the EMR’s muscles over the next year as it tries to incorporate patient-friendly tools and make the product more social. Think one part Yelp and another part Facebook with a dash of telemedicine.

On Sunday night the company will launch a physician review portal built on feedback in surveys from the patients of doctors using Practice Fusion’s Web-based electronic medical records system. Then later this week the company will release ChartShare, which will allow doctors in and out of Practice Fusion’s network to chat with one another similar to using Facebook chat (except it’s HIPAA compliant).

“The EMR is the means to an end,” CEO Ryan Howard said during a conversation at last week’s TEDMED conference, where he outlined the upcoming changes. “Once it’s in the doctor’s office, we liberate that data. … I think you are witnessing the shift to social where the patient’s much more empowered with that data.”

Electronic medical records companies and health IT experts have long said the EMR platform will quickly evolve beyond digital patient charts and into a central hub of information. For example, Shahid Shah at the recent Healthcare Information Transformation conference in Florida described a perfect EMR as, among other things, being able to extend a hospital’s brand while including healthcare social media. Meanwhile, Philadelphia-based Eviti’s oncology-focused suite recently added the ability to highlight clinical trials that a patient could be eligible to join.

Practice Fusion has more than 160,000 doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff using its free, ad- and sponsor-supported online medical records service. Its latest update – the physician review portal – will give doctors, who see the reviews first, the option to either keep all reviews private or make them all public. Reviews will also reside on the physicians’ Web sites.

“As a patient you only have a couple places to look online and look for a doctor – Yelp or your friends,” Howard said. Practice Fusion’s review site will be more credible, he said.

Meanwhile, the ChartShare messaging platform is meant to cut out the tedium, time and potential miscommunication involved in communication between physicians, according to Practice Fusion.

There are other changes coming in the next 12 months. Practice Fusion plans to incorporate appointment scheduling over the next few iterations of the platform (EMR giants like Epic already have that feature, along with other patient-focused offerings like a health diary). By 2013, patients with similar health problems will have the ability to talk with one another online or seek out second opinions through Practice Fusion’s platform, Howard said.

Telemedicine features will soon follow. Howard said Practice Fusion is designing a system in which doctors with downtime can login, be matched with patients and then consult in realtime and prescribe non-controlled substances. There is no timetable yet for this feature.

All of the new Practice Fusion tools not only mean enhanced electronic medical records, but it also pushes Practice Fusion into spaces occupied by the likes of ZocDoc and other doctor finders that incorporate physician reviews, among other things.