Will We See More Free EMRs?

Posted on September 24, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Wondering what’s up in the free EMR world? In a recent article in the redoubtable KevinMD.com, an author described three current EMRs which are free to physician users:

* Hello Health, which collects fees from patients ranging from $36-$120 per year but charges no fees to physicians. (Patients who pay for Hello Health get various privileges, including online appointment scheduling with blocked out periods of time reserved for Hello Health patients, the article reports.)

* Kareo, which gives away its EMR in hopes that medical offices will buy its other products, including practice management and billing services.

* Practice Fusion, whose business model allows physicians to use its EMR for free in exchange for tolerating ads on screen.

To me, what’s interesting about these models is that there are so few of them. When Practice Fusion first emerged years ago I assumed that there would be tons of other free EMR plays emerging to compete with it. That has not been the case.

To me, this fits in with John’s observation that the Golden Age of EMR Adoption is over, or as he puts it, that “we’re now getting ready to enter the nasty, ugly, dirty, swamp – filled waters of EMR adoption.”

Five years ago or so, free EMRs were just one of the neat new EMR business models emerging as vendors went after Meaningful Use money. Fast forward, to today, and you find that things have gotten a lot simpler and clearer. While early players like Practice Fusion may have seen good adoption of their free EMR, I don’t think they’re going to have much competition for that business model in the future. The market just isn’t as open to new ideas as it was.

While there may be other viable free EMRs not mentioned in the blog item, I think the industry has concluded that at best, pay-for-play EMRs are more viable over the long run than most free EMR models floating around the vendorsphere. Although, Practice Fusion’s new $70 million round of funding will keep them in the game for a while to come. What do you think?