Google helps start-up search out free electronic health record system

April 18, 2007

A start-up vendor has teamed with web search giant Google to offer a free electronic health record system to physicians. The service, now in beta version from Practice Fusion, is believed to be the first on-demand medical records product available to physicians at no cost.

A start-up vendor has teamed with web search giant Google to offer a free electronic health record system to physicians. The service, now in beta version from Practice Fusion, is believed to be the first on-demand medical records product available to physicians at no cost.

"The cost of electronic medical records systems is one of the major barriers to adoption," said Ryan Howard, Practice Fusion's CEO.

EHR systems typically cost $20,000 or more to implement. The Practice Fusion model circumvents this cost, allowing practitioners to adopt EHR technology with no financial risk.

The service finances itself with advertising sold through Google. Google's AdSense system generates ads that are displayed as the records system is used.

Eventually, the system could handle radiology-related data such as reports and perhaps even digital images, Howard said.

"Practice Fusion has integrated a partner to provide hospitals and others, such as orthopedic and radiology clinics, this functionality," he said.

The EHR service is separate from Google, which merely drives the application. Google will not handle any of the patient data passing through it. Data will reside in a central repository owned and controlled by Practice Fusion.

The service incorporates a security model compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and HL7 directives, Howard said. It also includes an integration layer that will enable it to access and share records with other systems.

The San Francisco-based Practice Fusion also offers a standard for-pay model, but focus groups have indicated greater potential acceptance for the free EHR.

The service, officially launched last August, is completely on-demand and delivered over the web. Only a browser and Internet connection are necessary. Claims management service will be available this spring and the EHR service itself goes live later this summer, Howard said.

The Practice Fusion-Google move comes on the heels of the demise of the Santa Barbara County (CA) Care Data Exchange, the nation's longest-running major regional health information organization.

The Santa Barbara RHIO unplugged its servers because of privacy concerns and doubts about ongoing costs. These issues had stalked the project since it began in 1998 during the first dot-com bubble as an attempt to establish a medical data-sharing initiative linking competing healthcare organizations.