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The Online Medical Visit … For Free

Posted on January 3, 2012 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

In every situation online it seems like at some point someone takes the business model as deep as it goes and then someone just finally says, “Let’s make it free.” Readers of this site will be familiar with the leading Free EHR companies Mitochon and Practice Fusion (both advertisers on this site). They both seem to be doing really well and are working on some really interesting business models.

With my familiarity with the Free EHR business model, I was intrigued when I read about HealthTap’s model for basically providing an online medical visit for free. This was particularly interesting since I knew that HealthTap had received $11.5 million in funding recently.

Andy Oram summarizes what HealthTap is trying to solve really well:

In this digital age, HealthTap asks, why should a patient have to make an appointment and drive to the clinic just to find out whether her symptoms are probably caused by a recent medication? And why should a doctor repeat the same advice for each patient when the patient can go online for it?

Plus, he makes two important observations of what HealthTap has found:
1. Doctors will take the time to post information online for free.
2. Doctors are willing to rate each other.

It’s pretty interesting when you think about how many doctors visits could be saved using something like HealthTap. On face, I’d think that a site like this wouldn’t make much sense. Although, as I think back on my medical experiences I can think of about a dozen or so times where I tapped into my physician friends before going to the doctor. Basically, I wanted to know if going to the doctor would be worth my time or not. In about 90% of those cases I ended up not going to the doctor since the doctor wouldn’t have really been able to do much for me anyway.

As I think through these experiences, I realize that many people aren’t lucky enough to be like me and have lots of physician friends around to ask the casual medical question. I could see how HealthTap could fill that role.

One key to this model is that it doesn’t always replace the visit to the physician. In fact, in a few cases I was told that I’d need an X-ray and that I better go see the doctor. In that case I was more likely to go to the physician since I knew I needed to get something done. I already knew the physician would do something for me when I went so I didn’t have the fear that they just tell me to take some Tylenol and be careful with it.

I’m not quite sure if doctors would be glad to actually have only people that are sick visiting their office or not. Maybe they enjoy the break of the easy patient that doesn’t require any effort on their part.

I think there are still questions about the quality of information that patients will get on HealthTap. This is going to be the most interesting issue to follow. No doubt they’re going to be toeing a fine line called medical advice. However, whether it’s HealthTap or some other online source that someone likely finds through Google, people are going to be looking for this kind of health information online. The idea of a free online medical visit sounds good to me.

Let’s also not be surprised if the Free EHR vendors eventually get into online visits as well. Seems like a natural progression for them to offer this service if they wanted to go that direction. From what I understand they have plenty on their plates right now, but a few years from now it could get pretty interesting.

Going Beyond Free EHR – Paying Doctors to Use Your EHR

Posted on September 1, 2011 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

I still remember the first time I heard about Practice Fusion offering a Free EHR. My first response was, “Really?” Of course, having Practice Fusion as an advertiser, being on stage at the Practice Fusion User Group meeting and a number of other interactions with other Free EHR vendors like Mitochon Systems (also an advertiser) has opened my eyes into the real business model behind the “Free EHR” software.

As I thought on the Free EHR business model, I wondered whether some EHR vendor will come out and actually pay doctors to use their EHR software. Yes, that’s right…

An EHR Vendor that Pays Doctors to use EHR.

I haven’t seen one yet, but I could see it happening. It’s not a business model that I would navigate, but I wonder how the Free EHR vendors would react if a well funded venture backed EHR company came out and offered to pay doctors to use their software. Basically, this new company would be doing to the Free EHR vendors what Free EHR vendors did to the rest of the EHR industry.

Would someone really have the moxie to do such a move?

Would the ads, research or other revenue models play out so well that someone could pay doctors to use an EHR?

I’m not talking about the government paying doctors to use an EHR. That’s a different thing all together. Maybe the EHR vendor that does it could be one that’s a sinking ship and making a last ditch effort to somehow monetize their EHR since their EHR software is great, but their EHR marketing is lacking. What better way to improve the marketing of your EHR than paying doctors to use it?

EMR Doctor’s Blog: Ways to Save Money in a Modern Electronic Medical Practice: Part Two

Posted on January 18, 2011 I Written By

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC, as a solo practice in 2009.

Here’s another tip I learned over the first year in my solo practice that has really added efficiency and productivity to my office.

Tip #2. Use an electronic health / medical record system (for free, if you can).

I’ll admit I’m biased here. I hate buying something that I can get legally for free.  And as far as EMR systems go, there’s more than one option on the market at the present time.  In my office, we use the guilty pleasure of Practice Fusion and have been pretty freaking happy for a year now. Mitochon Systems is another company that offers such an EMR system, although I confess I haven’t tried it.  Practice Fusion now claims about 60,000 users, although these are not all physicians. For a recent review of their stats, an interview with the CEO can be found at HisTalkPractice.com.  These companies often use alternative sources of income in order to avoid passing on their business costs to the providers and staff using their systems. In the case of Practice Fusion, we see small ads for medications at the bottom of the screen or off to the side.   For me, this is tolerable, and I don’t feel any pressure to prescribe these drugs. They are not popup boxes that would require you to close before being able to work on patient charts, and so this allows them to be minimally invasive into your daily activities.

In bipartisan fairness, there are a variety of systems that you can pay for if desired, and indeed there is a pay-for option to use Practice Fusion without the ads for around $100 per month.  If you have ethical qualms about using a reportedly “free” system due to supposed “hidden costs”, financial and “otherwise”, that someone else will need to pay for, then you may wish to pay yourself. Just please please please don’t make the mistake of thinking that free systems are somehow less capable or functional, simply because they are free to users, and “after all, how good could it be if it’s not expensive?”.  As the old saying goes, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”  Now, as for my soapbox on drug companies and their tactics to ruin physicians’ ability to choose drugs they would really like to prescribe, we’ll have to save that one for another post…

Dr. West is an endocrinologist in private practice in Washington, DC. He completed fellowship training in Endocrinology and Metabolism at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. West opened The Washington Endocrine Clinic, PLLC, as a solo practice in 2009.

Full Disclosure: Practice Fusion and Mitochon Systems are both advertisers on EMR and EHR, but I’m not sure Dr. West even knew this when he wrote the post. Plus, Dr. West didn’t get paid to write this post either. He just loves EMR and is glad to share his good and bad experiences with it.