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Epocrates plans mobile SaaS EHR system for solo physicians

Epocrates, which made its mark with a free drug-interaction database for Palm, joins the electronic health records fray with a smartphone-tuned, Software as a Service EHR system for solo physicians.

Epocrates, known best for a smartphone-based drug-interaction database that’s used by one in three U.S. physicians, announced at the HIMSS10 annual conference it’s releasing a mobile Software as a Service (SaaS) electronic health record (EHR) system for solo physicians and their small-practice peers. The EHR software is expected to be released in the fourth quarter of this year.

The company has no sales force, does not advertise and has minimal marketing resources. Nevertheless, Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge, its chief medical officer, said he is confident the reputation and mindshare the company gained among physicians with its drug database will give its SaaS EHR system legs in the market -- that plus a pay-as-you-go subscription fee that doesn’t require the initial capital outlay of many EHR systems.

The company hopes to parley the knowledge it gained deploying drug-interaction and disease-management content to smartphones into developing the EHR system. Epocrates apps currently work on BlackBerry, Android, Palm Pre and Windows Mobile devices, as well as on iPhones.

The iPhone is by far the most popular smartphone among physicians, followed by the BlackBerry, Rutledge said. Android devices, however, are picking up steam and could be a solid alternative for doctors who have issues with the iPhone’s network coverage or prefer a keyboard (which some Android models include) to a touch-screen.

“I think, moving forward, that the rich media capability and user interface of the iPhone and Android are the two most interesting platforms,” Rutledge said. “Certainly the ability to create highly functional, interactive, easy-to-use applications is greatest on the iPhone and Android platforms,” he added.

Dr. Bruce Bienenstock, a tech-savvy Mountain View, Calif.-based child psychiatrist, said he is looking forward to eventually using the Saas EHR system. He has experimented with several systems that link his iPhone and desktop; nothing he’s tested so far, in his opinion, offers solo physicians the functionality they need or the data protection needed to meet with HIPAA compliance privacy rules. The value of Epocrates getting into the EHR space, he added, is that doctors will be able to link patient data to the popular drug-interaction database.

Right now, when a patient (or his parent) calls with a need for a medication change, it is hard for Bienenstock to switch between multiple applications on the phone. Putting together the EHR and the drug-interaction database will give a custom view of what should and shouldn’t be prescribed based on that patient’s illness, allergies, and other medications he is already taking.

“Epocrates has a good shot [at success with its EHR],” said Bienenstock, adding that the company actively seeks physician input on product development. “Any doc who knows how to use a handheld device wants Epocrates on it, because it’s a fast, easy, simple program that allows you to know stuff very, very quickly. They’ve built it the way they’ve built it because of feedback systems from the doctors who use it.”

SaaS EHR to link mobile devices, clients

Epocrates’ SaaS EHR system will be fully functional on the iPhone – in theory, every piece of data entry can be done on it – but it also will support desktop use for the heavy lifting of keyboard-intensive processes.

“You’re not going to enter a full patient record on the iPhone,” said Erica Sniad Morgenstern, Epocrates’ director of investor relations. The newly announced iPad runs the iPhone OS and has more screen real estate, so it could become a popular tool for physicians running the new SaaS EHR as well, she added.

The point of writing all the functions of the EHR system into the iPhone app, Rutledge said, is to give physicians full access to a patient record when they’re not in the office, so they can react quickly to new information they receive on a patient’s condition and adjust orders remotely. Furthermore, the system allows for the design of templates for treating common conditions; that feature could speed populating the EHR with orders from the smartphone by offering shortcuts to keyboarding processes.

The federal government set aside funds for regional extension centers to provide physicians with EHR implementation help, but that process is still under construction. Epocrates thus hopes to make its SaaS EHR system deployable by physicians using Web tutorials, with minimal IT infrastructure and investment -- and without outside help, CMO Rutledge said.

“It’s self-evident how to use it, it’s straightforward, and the physician can take it upon himself or herself to get started without engaging additional support,” Rutledge said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Don Fluckinger, Features Writer.

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