Free web-based EHR software sounds like a great idea, but what if this software is sponsored by pharmaceutical companies? Practice Fusion, one of the largest providers of EHR software, has more than 112,000 healthcare professionals using its products in around 5.5 million office visits each month. The vendor’s no-cost software has an alert feature that notifies providers when patients are due for services such as vaccines. These alerts are paid for by industry groups such as Merck & Co.
Practice Fusion found that over a four-month period, the alerts increased vaccinations by 73 percent, which amounts to an additional 25,000 immunizations. This could have beneficial health results, but does sponsorship have a sales-driven effect on prescribing patterns?Critics fear that these notifications, which match the data stored in patients’ electronic health records with pre-programmed alerts, give marketers unwarranted influence over which medications physicians prescribe and to whom.
Despite the controversy, Practice Fusion’s alerts are ultimately legal. Drugmakers are prohibited from paying physicians to prescribe their medications, and physicians using Practice Fusion software are not required to receive the sponsored alerts.
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