Managing the Flow in Radiology

A No-Cost EHR for Radiology Oncology Practices

Radiologists are ahead of the curve when it comes to digital record keeping. PACS, RIS, and other informatics are increasing the cost of doing business in health care, but what if some of those health care costs were free?

Practice Fusion is not a PACS or RIS, but is a Web-based electronic health record (EHR) product. Its developer, San Francisco-based Practice Fusion, is one of several companies that are trying a new revenue model to attract physicians to their informatics platform.

There are many EHR systems on the market today, but what makes Practice Fusion stand out is the cost: Free. Yes, free. Instead of charging the physician, practice, (or a patient) thousands of dollars for a proprietary server-based EHR, Practice Fusion is instead relying on advertising revenue to provide the service. If physicians and administrators can accept having banner advertisements while performing scheduling, billing, document reviewing, e-prescribing, and other tasks, then the price may be just right for you and your practice.

However, Practice Fusion isn?t for everyone, and in fact, it?s not designed at all for the daily needs of radiologists. Hospitals and large practices may also find they need an on-site client server-based EHR.

Practice Fusion also reports that it will qualify for the EHR stimulus incentives under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. (The government is still defining its qualifications for EHRs, but the company said that it fully expects that its EHR will be compliant.) In that case, Practice Fusion?s free service may be a bonus worth up to $44,000 for practices that adopt a qualified EHR and show ?meaningful use.?

Though not designed for diagnostic radiologists (at least not yet), Practice Fusion may be useful to radiology oncology practices looking for an EHR solution.

John W. Wells, Jr, MD, board certified radiation oncologist at Florida Radiation Oncology Group (FROG), Jacksonville, is currently evaluating Practice Fusion.

While FROG, a group of 25 physicians with 15 oncology centers, has not committed to Practice Fusion or any product yet, Wells does see its potential for his group?s needs.

?What we like about Practice Fusion is that it facilitates communications between primary care physicians and specialists,? said Wells. ?The important thing a referring doctor needs to know is what are you doing, and are you done. The way Practice Fusion is put together, it has a very nice platform where everybody can log in and securely share the patient?s information.?

Instead of transferring and faxing reports and lab results, Practice Fusion allows offices to upload patient data, allowing all authorized physicians to keep updated on results and tests.

So what are the drawbacks besides advertising content? At this point, the system is not compatible with PACS, does not have any 3D visualization tools, and does not have any automatic import function from modalities or devices. Thus, documents, image files (JPGs), PDF files, and other data files must be uploaded to Practice Fusion?s online server by staff in order for patient files to be shared. Patients and physicians can also input data manually.

The other downside is that the information is online, which means that if there is any Internet disruption or any Practice Fusion server updates or maintenance?usually off hours?then the uploaded data may be temporarily inaccessible.

Also, the data entered are not currently globally searchable by national databases, but Practice Fusion says it is working on that for a future release.

On the plus side, there are many EHR features with an easy-to-use interface, including e-prescribing, charting, scheduling, lab integrations, patient management, secure messaging, medical record history and document management reporting, and billing. Support and training are included as well.

Practice Fusion also provides tools for specialty practices, including custom templates, charts, and frequently used insurance and Medicare codes.

Currently, the company says that it has 40,000 users made up of physicians, front-office staff, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.

?Tor Valenza