EHR Adoption > Is ad-supported software the solution to EHR replacement woes?

Is ad-supported software the solution to EHR replacement woes?

Author | Date August 5, 2013

Stage 2 of meaningful use is right around the corner, and thousands of physicians are fed up with their EHR software as they progress into the age of health information exchange, data analytics, and patient engagement.  Many providers are actively looking to replace their EHRs with a more cost-effective substitute that will allow them to succeed in Stage 2 and beyond.  But after being burned by heavy fees, uneven functionality, and even developers withholding patient data when a client leaves a contract, where should they turn?

Many providers who have started to fear commitment are turning to ad-supported, cloud-based vendors who promise free or low-fee use of the software in exchange for selling their attention span to pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and other businesses looking to get their name in front of a captive physician audience.  At this point, most physicians have acknowledged that no EHR is ever going to be perfect.  So why pay thousands of dollars when you could be frustrated for free?

“Naturally, all products have issues.  I won’t say that anything is 100% a pleasure to work with,” says Dr. A.R. Scopelliti of Monmouth Functional Neurology Center, a Practice Fusion customer.   “One thing that’s a big key ingredient is that they let us use the software for free.  There are a lot of companies that will charge you $400 a month, and I’m sure none of those are going to make me any happier.  Keeping in mind that everything is going to have its fair share of problems, this is probably the best scenario in that you’re not paying a lot to experience those hardships.”

“Doctors are never totally satisfied with their EHR systems,” agrees Emily Peters, VP of Marketing Communications at Practice Fusion.  “That’s just always going to be true.  Certainly with our price, we get a little more leniency with our users, because they’re not paying a ton of money for the system.  These are people who have spent $70,000 or $100,000 on an EHR system, but are deciding that they can’t keep throwing good money after bad.”

For small practices that are strapped for cash and tired of attempting to upgrade homegrown EHRs that won’t even help them qualify for meaningful use, ad-supported software might seem like a dream come true.  But providers need to look past the up-front bill and consider how an ad-supported interface is going to affect their workflow.  Dr. Scopelliti thinks it’s no big deal to have advertising included in his daily experience with his EHR.  Getting the software for free is more than enough compensation.  “Obviously someone has to be paying for something if they’re giving it out for free,” he reasons.

“I do click on some of [the ads],” he says.  “I’ve seen some that catch my interest, and I’ve clicked on them.  I’m certainly not offended by them in any way.  They’re not at all intrusive – it’s not like they pop up in the middle of your note or anything like that.  They’re always in the same place at the bottom.  Sometimes they catch your eye with something you’re interested in, and if it’s something that you’re not interested in, it doesn’t become a distraction.  I don’t see it as a problem at all.”

“From an advertiser perspective, the functionality of EHRs and EMRs is potentially a gold mine in that you are able to reach physicians during point of care and in a targeted capacity as well,” said Jonathon Padron, senior client service analyst for analytics company comScore.  But targeting ads means reading and analyzing what’s on the screen, and that gets into a tricky area of patient privacy rules.

“The system can identify the condition a physician is looking at and automatically pop up a drug that can treat it,” Padron says.  The legality of mining patient information for advertising purposes is nebulous at best, and providers should ask where the data is being stored, who owns it, and who has the ability to access it before committing to a cloud-based service.

What do you think about ad-supported software?  Is it a viable alternative to traditional EHR offerings?  Comment below to join the discussion.

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