PracticeFusionLogo Practice Fusion is a web-based EMR & practice management system that is targeted towards private practices. SaaS-based EMRs are not new, but what sets Practice Fusion apart is its business model and lineage.

Practice Fusion’s is free. Free software, free hosting, free service. It is  supported by ‘non-intrusive’ ads. They have figured out a way to utilize Google Adsense APIs in a way that is compliant with HIPAA, i.e. doesn’t adversely affect patient privacy. Their CEO said in a 2007 interview that Practice Fusion will provide advertisers with basic demographic information about the physicians who view the ads – such as their city and specialty – but will not reveal names. If the users don’t want ads, they have an option to pay $100/month/provider to make them go away. As for the lineage, the company is backed by SalesForce both in terms of investment and advisory board. I guess that is where they inherit the ‘online, real-time, risk-free, on-demand’ marketing message.

I’m an absolute fan of free software, and believe in the utopian dream of free, ubiquitous EMRs. But I scratching my head on how exactly does an EMR work with an ad-supported model. Fact 1 – Doctors (esp. private practice) doing electronic documentation want to minimize distractions and click on as little items as possible. Fact 2 – Google Adsense sends you a check only if the users click on an ad. Those two facts are contradictory. How many doctors in their right mind will take time out in the middle of care delivery to click on an ad? I’ll bet none. Not many will pay $100 either.

There is some evidence that they charge some unpublicized fees ($50/month/provider “support” fee according to this commenter at another blog Note: Updated: See Emily’s comment to this post).  Practice Fusion claims their user base is now up to 18,000 and they are the “fastest growing EMR” but those sound like marketing tactics rather than hard facts. For example- This press release says that they are “fastest growing ” with 1300% growth rate. Well that is perhaps because they are comparing two convenient times – in early 2008 they had about 1000 users, and in early 2009 they had reached 13,000.

I’ll try not to judge them based on unverified complaints and odd press-releases, but I seriously doubt that good, competitive Healthcare IT software and it’s support can be sustained solely on the basis of only an ad-supported model.

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