Last week, Practice Fusion — the fourth largest vendor of electronic medical records in the country, according to Bloomberg Businessweek — announced a partnership with AliveCor, Inc., maker of a smartphone heart monitor, and Diasend, an online diabetes management system. When patients approve sharing data from these FDA-approved services, their information will start flowing into their Practice Fusion medical records. The company plans to integrate more devices that help consumers track their health, according to Matt Douglass, the company’s co-founder and vice president of platform.
Scripps’ Topol called the announcement an important but “baby” step toward making data-powered medicine a reality. “It’s the future,” he said. “But we’ve got a long way for this to become routine.” Integrating data into medical records can be clunky. Topol’s patients, after all, must still email him screenshots of their information before it can be put into their records.
Companies like AliveCor and Diasend require FDA clearance for medical use because they provide diagnostic services. But others — like Nike+ FuelBand and Fitbit, which work essentially like pedometers, or Wellframe, an app that guides patients through a cardiac rehabilitation program — are meant to foster healthful habits. For now, that distinction saves companies from the drawn-out and expensive process of applying for FDA approval.
Integrating data into medical records can be clunky. Topol’s patients, after all, must still email him screenshots of their information before it can be put into their records.
“Right now, there’s a void in the industry in terms of what do you do with this information,” says Tapan Mehta, the chief of global healthcare marketing for networking giant Cisco. “How do you take this data and synthesize it and make it into knowledge, which can then be used at the point of care?”
Another roadblock to making all this patient-generated information medically relevant is that it’s in silos controlled by the companies that collect it. Plus, analyzing it can be pricey. What’s needed, some experts say, is a system that aggregates and distills data into easily digestible nuggets of information for both patients and their doctors. For consumers to buy in, the interface needs to be as simple as signing into services with your Facebook account, says Guido Jouret, Cisco’s Internet of Things general manager.
Google Health was an early attempt at integration that failed because uploading the data was a hassle, he says. Now Practice Fusion is making a go of it. The company already brands itself as a “physician-patient community,” allowing patients to directly manage their health and find providers. Integrating consumer-grade health products was a logical next step. For now, patients must come into their doctors offices to upload data to the platform wirelessly through the cloud, but there are plans to let patients upload their own data from home in the future. The idea is to leverage the power of the internet to increase social interactions and productivity and provide users seamless, on demand data access from any device.
“If you look to 2020, there’s no way electronic medical records are not running primarily in the cloud,” Douglass recalls Ryan Howard, his co-founder, saying when he approached him in 2005 and sold him on the idea of starting a web-based electronic health records company. “All medical information had to be instantly accessible.”
In the long-term, Douglass says, the company could develop “fairly complex algorithms that are looking at trends across patient populations — who’s healthy or who can be healthier and whether recommendations are actually making them better.” Like Google and Facebook, the San Francisco-based startup acts as a marketplace for information. Its services are free to the more than 100,000 medical professionals who use its product. The company makes money by partnering with diagnostic labs, imaging centers and drug companies and through targeted advertising.
The future is coming.