GE Healthcare Intros Cloud EMR For Small Practices

The software-as-a-service GE Centricity Advance e-medical record system will help small medical practices comply with healthcare reform's "meaningful use" requirements.



GE Healthcare is often associated with e-medical record and other clinical information systems used in hospitals and larger healthcare facilities. But the vendor Tuesday introduced for small, independent doctor practices a new Web-based, cloud version of its Centricity EMR software.

GE Centricity Advance is a new software-as-a-service offering that includes integrated e-medical records, practice management applications, and a patient portal.

The software is aimed at the 500,000 physicians in small U.S. practices with 15 or fewer doctors, a segment that currently has an EMR penetration rate of less than 15%, said Jim Corrigan, VP and general manager of GE Healthcare IT's ambulatory care business during a GE Webcast on Tuesday.

While GE's family of Centricity EMR products has a sizeable market presence in hospitals and larger doctor offices with 25 or more physicians, the small physician office segment overall faces difficulties such as cost and technical support in digitizing their practices, said Vishal Wanchoo, president and CEO of GE Healthcare IT during the Webcast.

While GE has for years offered to doctor practices ambulatory care versions of it GE Centricity EMR software -- which is popular in many large hospital settings -- the new Centricity Advance is a new "plug and play" option for small physician practices.

The new version is "a flexible" hosted system that can be implemented quickly so that doctors can prepare for the meaningful use of health IT financial incentives that begin in 2011 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's HITECH legislation, said Corrigan.

Centricity Advance software has been under development for a year with EMR vendor MedPlexus, which GE acquired last March.

GE Centricity Advance was designed "from the ground up" to be hosted and delivered via the Web, making it faster to implement, easier to support and upgrade, and less expense overall to install and run, said Wachoo. The new software is "not a hosted ASP version of client-server software," which other vendors frequently offer as SaaS options via a Web browser, said GE in a statement.

"Delivering an EMR via the Internet, via the cloud makes it easier to install and manage, and that's crucial for small offices," Wanchoo said. GE Advance allows for on-the-fly upgrades and a la carte features.

The new offering's patient portal permits patients using secure passwords to log in to schedule appointments, request prescription refills, and access billing statements, lab results, and messages from physicians.

The portal also allows patients "to export continuity-of-care records to take with them" on vacation or to other physicians, said Dr. Desiree Butter, a family physician who is using the software in her Wexford, Pa. solo-practitioner office.

That capability for patients to access their records "fulfills an element of meaningful use," that's expected in the HITECH act's "meaningful use" rules that will be finalized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services later this month, she said.

Butter said she expects her practice will not only be compliant to the upcoming meaningful use regulations in time for the government's financial rewards that start in 2011, but her office "will probably exceed" the federal requirements for EMR use, she said.

GE says the new software often can be up and running in many physician practices in about four weeks, including implementation and training time.

"This is an important breakthrough if you're in a rural community," said Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, founder of the Center for Healthcare Transformation, and a panelist at the GE Webcast.

"The challenge of rural America is understated," especially for small medical offices implementing digitized record systems without their own in-house technical teams. "GE does the support and sustainment," he said. Doctor offices being able to access secure, hosted e-medical records via the cloud regardless of where they're located is akin to "using an ATM" to withdraw money regardless of where you're traveling, he said.

The up-front cost of implementing GE Advance is between $4,000 and $9,000 and monthly subscription fees range from about $300 to $800.

GE joins a number of other vendors offering SaaS-based e-health record systems for doctor practices including NextGen, eClinicalWorks, and PracticeFusion.

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