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Practice Fusion taps into a 38-million-patient database
With funding support from an undisclosed pharma manufacturer, Practice Fusion (San Francisco) has recently completed a project to encourage physicians (typically those using the company’s electronic health-records [EHR] system) to gather data on patients’ weight and body mass index (BMI) during routine checkups. This should be a fairly standard practice, but like many tasks heaped on healthcare providers, it is irregularly followed. The campaign alerted over 50,000 healthcare providers over a 12-month span, and quintupled the number of patients leaving their doctor’s office with a weight management plan—including, where medically recommended—a prescription for anti-obesity drugs. Ongoing data collection will eventually demonstrate the relative value of treatment plans for obesity.
Dorothy Gemmell, a recently hired SVP for life science partnerships at Practice Fusion, says that pharma interest in collecting such data is rising rapidly. The obesity study is not the first that the company has conducted (others have involved overactive-bladder research with Astellas Pharma, and AstraZeneca for asthma); and the company is ramping up its capabilities in line with the heightened pharma interest. “Among EHR vendors, Practice Fusion has one of the largest concentrations of patients in ambulatory care settings,” she says. Like some other EHR vendors, the company has status as a HIPAA-compliant business associate of healthcare providers; deidentified data thus flows through the company’s databases and can provide insights not easily obtained from traditional retrospective claims data sets. (“Business associates,” per HIPAA rules, are supposed to provide the same privacy and data-security measures as healthcare providers themselves.)
Only about half of the leading EHR vendors allow for pharma interaction with their data or their customers; Practice Fusion is pursuing a strategy of offering its platform at little or no cost to providers, and generating revenue from clinical decision support program (like the obesity study); direct promotion to physicians; or information resources at the point of care for patients. Late last year, it announced a partnership with CoverMyMeds, another IT company that distributes prior-authorization forms and information to healthcare providers dispensing specialty pharmaceuticals.
According to the February issue of an annual study performed by SK&A Information (a unit of IMS Health), Practice Fusion retained its No. 4 position among top ten EHR vendors, and is in use by 6.5% of US physicians. Epic retained its No. 1 position (12.4% of physicians). Collectively, the top ten vendors now encompass nearly 61% of the physician market—a steady degree of consolidation is occurring; however, there are still nearly 500 EHR vendors doing business currently. Last fall, the Office of the National Coordinator for healthcare IT issued a roadmap for interoperability among EHR systems, and started a “pledge” campaign to get vendors to sign on to its goals, which would have most systems able to exchange most data by the end of 2017. Practice Fusion signed this pledge in March, although it says that it has been providing interoperability since its founding.