GE offers e-health records as SaaS offering

Centricity Advance service will cost docs from $300 to $800 a month

GE's Healthcare division today announced its first electronic medical record (EMR) product in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform aimed at small or remote physician practices with a lower-cost, monthly fee model.

GE Healthcare's Centricity Advance product offers a combination of EMR, physician administrative management and patient portals.

GE said the SaaS offering differs from a traditional hosted or application service provider model in that after a start-up fee of $4,000 to $9,000, customers are charged a monthly subscription fee, said Chittaranjan Mallipeddi, vice president and general manager of GE Healthcare IT's newly launched SaaS business unit.

"Most ASP models charge the customer a large upfront fee for the software purchase, followed by indefinite recurring hosting fees," Mallipeddi said. "The differences are subtle but critical."

The subscription-based EMR service generally runs between $300 and $800 per month, according to GE. The average cost to install an in-house EMR system is around $20,000 to $30,000, according to industry experts.

According to Mallipeddi, Centricity Advance can be deployed in under a month, including clinician training, which is conducted via a Web portal. Once deployed, physicians will be able to demonstrate "meaningful use" of their EMR in order to receive reimbursements under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he said.

The new software service also offers a patient self-service portal, that allows patients to access their own personal medical records (PMR) through their own secure password in order to schedule their own appointments, request prescription refills or access billing statements, lab results and private messages from their clinicians.

GE's new SaaS-based EMR is based on software from recently acquired MedPlexus Inc., a vendor of Web-based administrative, financial and clinical software and services for physician practices.

Dr. Desiree Butter, a general practitioner with a family practice in Wexford, Penn., said she's been using MedPlexus's EMR since October 2004. She doesn't use it in a SaaS model, but sees advantages to that. For one, Butter said she often has software integration problems that a hosted model would eliminate because the service would be responsible for those kinds of issues.

For example, Butter uses a secure e-mail platform so that her patients can contact her over the Web. Since her EMR system does not offer the secure e-mail, her patients must use two separate Web pages, one for their medical records, and a second to communicate with their doctor.

"Some of the patients are using the e-mail option, but they're finding it cumbersome," she said. "They also don't like having to go to another Web site and download encryption software onto their computer and deal with their passwords expiring over time."

Butter also said a SaaS model would offer a less expensive path for physicians to deploy an EMR system considering the high start-up costs associated with purchasing the server, network equipment and software.

"With the small doctor's office, if it's not affordable, then a lot of them will not be able to go electronic at all," she said.

Butter, who has 1,600 patients in her practice, said the greatest advantage she's gained from having an EMR is data management. Her practice is nearly 100% paper free, including electronic prescribing of medications and lab tests.

Along with the electronic prescriptions, her EMR offers automated drug warnings that are connected to patient allergies and drug combinations. For example, if Butter attempts to prescribe a medication for a patient already taking something that might cause a reaction, the EMR automatically warns her.

"The other feature I like is its portability. I have a tablet PC with me at all times, so I can literally have my office with me at all times," she said. "It allows me to get away from the office and still be able to do work."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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