Why Hospitals Taking Health Care Digital is Important

CEO Ryan Howard talks about the importance of electronic health records.

Many medical facilities are in the process of making the switch to electronic health records. Under the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, healthcare providers must be able to demonstrate by 2015 that their electronic health records (EHR) systems fulfill meaningful use requirements.

One company that has been helping health care providers during the transition is Practice Fusion. Black Enterprise sat down with Practice Fusion founder and CEO Ryan Howard to talk about the importance of electronic health records and why he started the company.

Black Enterprise: What is Practice Fusion?

Ryan Howard: Practice Fusion offers a free, web-based electronic health record system that physicians use to document patient visits, order and receive lab results, send e-prescriptions to pharmacies, communicate with other providers, and earn incentives. As a free system we’re accessible to the many small practices that can’t afford legacy EHR solutions, and our flexible web-based platform allows us to respond to user demands and evolve our product quicker than any other system on the market. We’re the EHR that works for independent practices, offering wide connectivity to partners like labs and imaging centers not on offer with any other solution.

B.E.: What prompted you to start Practice Fusion?

Howard: I worked for Brown & Toland as an IT consultant for physicians trying to digitize their billing systems before starting the company. Most of the providers I saw were still using paper charts. With the enormous costs of legacy EHR vendors, there was a clear opportunity to offer something both more affordable and easier to implement, and health care was clearly in need of innovative technology that could reduce costs, improve care, and save lives.

B.E.: There has recently been a push toward electronic records in hospitals. Why is there such an urgency for hospitals to go digital?

Howard: Hospitals are large institutions with big budgets. Coordinating care within hospitals presents immediate challenges, and electronic records is an obvious solution that hospitals are able to afford despite the high costs. As a result, much of the initial focus with EHRs have been with hospitals, which is why legacy EHR vendors have expensive solutions out of reach for small practices. But this focus has missed the decisive importance of these independent practices that make up 80% of healthcare providers in the country, where local, preventive care takes place. Our focus has been on providing both a free EHR that works for them and the connectivity to partners and patients that has traditionally been limited to hospitals and larger clinics.

B.E.: What are the pros and cons of electronic medical records?

Howard: Slow, costly implementation and workflow interruption has traditionally been their biggest downside. This has kept them out of reach of independent practices, who either can’t afford them or balk at spending all their time inputting data. Done right, electronic medical records don’t need to be a burden financially or otherwise. Data recording can be done in a structured way that ends up saving the provider time, while also giving them instant connectivity to pharmacies, labs, and imaging centers they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Ultimately it also puts health information back in the hands of patients, who can use their health records to stay more engaged with their health and have health information available when they need it.

Read on for part two of this interview, where we talk to Howard about Patient Fusion, a new way for patients to make appointments online .

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