The business model for Practice Fusion, a web-based physician office EMR that can be obtained free, has been a source of great interest for me (see: Practice Fusion CEO Calls His Company the Largest EMR Provider; Practice Fusion Supported by Advertising and Owns Anonymized Data). A recent press release from the company caught my eye (see: Practice Fusion Launches API to Democratize Lab Integrations). Here's an excerpt from it:
Practice Fusion, the free Electronic Medical Record (EMR) company,...announced the launch of its new lab API, which allows any laboratory in the country to connect directly to the EMR. The lab API - first of its kind in the health sector - enables rapid deployment of new laboratory connections that would ordinarily take weeks or months to establish, giving over 150,000 medical professionals easy access to their local commercial, hospital and private laboratories....
- Practice Fusion's Lab API allows laboratories to connect to the EMR platform instantly with almost no turnaround time
- Labs can use the API connection to instantly send lab results to Practice Fusion users with standard HL7 data files
- Any commercial laboratory - including clinical, pathology, reference and hospital systems - can send lab results to users directly within the EMR
- Minimal development is required from the lab and Practice Fusion offers free integration support
- Over 150,000 medical providers using the EMR can connect to their national and regional labs of choice at no cost
As many readers of this blog will already know, an application programming interface (API) is a specification for an interface that can be used for communication between two computer systems. The large national reference labs like Quest and Lab Corp have large IT staffs and can quickly churn out interfaces to the most popular office EMRs. Quest, for example, also sells a web-enabled office EMR called Care360. By developing and providing an API, Practice Fusion is facilitating interface development for the smaller regional and esoteric labs, which can then transmit test results to the Practice Fusion EMR for access by physician office clients. If this is, indeed, the first lab API in the health sector, it's a valuable step and a long time in coming. It's also evidence of the high value that clinicians place on access to test results in their EMRs.
I was also fascinated by the choice of words in the press release. The API is said to be a democratizing step. This caught me by surprise -- the use of a political vocabulary with reference to IT. It's possible to chalk this up to an overly enthusiastic ad agency. However, there may also be deeper meaning to it. We live in a era of Big Medicine (see: Physician Private Practice Declines; the Last Barrier to Emergence of "Big Medicine"; Hospitals Use Their Medical Schools, Residencies for Later Physician Recruitment; FTC Approves Merger of Express Scripts and Medco). Enabling office-based physicians to rapidly access lab test results could serve as one small antidote to this phenomenon.