Practice Fusion patient emails violate physicians' trust

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Editor's Note: This post has been updated to include Practice Fusion's official response, sent via email to FierceEMR.

Electronic health record vendor Practice Fusion's automatic physician data gathering feature didn't receive sufficient publicity and has violated physicians' trust, according to blogger John Lynn, founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network.

Lynn, writing in a blog post Aug. 26, reported that Practice Fusion turned on a feature in its EHR software that would email every patient and ask the patient to rate his or her physician whenever a progress note was created in the EHR; the email gives the appearance of being sent from the physician. More than 1.8 million reviews have been submitted to Practice Fusion, according to Lynn.

However, many physicians received scant notice of the new feature, and are unaware that such emails are being generated by their EHRs, said Lynn, who suggested that the feature is really being used by Practice Fusion to compete with other physician rating sites. He reported that many physicians are upset about the emails, and that some will no longer input email addresses into their EHR systems, even though Practice Fusion now has made patient email addresses a required field. He also stated that Practice Fusion could have avoided the controversy by treating the feature as an opt-in feature, as opposed to an opt-out feature.

Lynn also expressed concern that this and other actions by vendors could damage the physician-vendor relationship.

"While I believe sending these emails in the physician's name without their knowledge is a big issue for Practice Fusion, the bigger question is whether these actions are indicative of how Practice Fusion will treat doctors in the future," he said. "All EHR vendors could have similar physician trust issues to the ones described above if they're not careful when rolling out new features."

Practice Fusion responded to Lynn's post, apologizing for the confusion and asserting that their actions do not violate HIPAA. Practice Fusion VP of Marketing Communications Emily Peters also sent an official reponse on behalf of the company in an email to FierceEMR, which said:

"Practice Fusion's goal is to create transparency in healthcare without compromise. It is critical that patients seeing any doctor on our platform understand the quality of their doctor. And, therefore, doctors using our free online scheduling application are required to make their reviews available to the public. Practice Fusion offers the only service on the market that validates a patient review was based on an actual visit.

"Our customers were kept informed about the feedback program for a full year before launch through multiple communication channels.  No PHI is ever shared in these communications."

This is not the first time that vendors of free EHRs have come under fire. Others have expressed concern that cloud EHR vendors are lax when it comes to HIPAA, and that the ads they contain may violate HIPAA's marketing rules.

To learn more:
- read Lynn's post

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