New Practice Fusion Site Offers Big Data for Public Health Research

Practice Fusion, an EHR vendor, has launched a new research site to provide clinical data to fuel health discoveries.

The research division of electronic health record (EHR) vendor Practice Fusion launched a new Web database March 20 that allows researchers to uncover patterns in public health. Researchers will analyze big data to study adverse health conditions and adverse drug reactions, according to the company.

"Big data holds the key to understanding health care today and improving it in the future," Dr. Robert Rowley, medical director at Practice Fusion, said in a statement. "Putting this knowledge in the hands of doctors will save lives and enable patients to make informed decisions about their health."

Big data can also be the key to personalized medicine, as more and more data is made available in the cloud.

The research site will allow health care professionals to access data previously "siloed" in major academic centers, according to Jake Marcus, a data scientist at Practice Fusion. "Practice Fusion's [data search] model unifies clinical data, allowing researchers to compare health trends in practices across the country," Marcus wrote in an email to eWEEK.

Practice Fusion also stores data outside of academic centers in small primary-care provider practices, said Marcus.

"The site will combine Practice Fusion's research dataset with other data, like air-quality data or weather patterns, to uncover interesting health patterns across domains," he said. It also will enable health care researchers to uncover facts, such as a 46 percent rate for late arrivals to doctors' appointments.

The company's clinical dataset provides information on patients' diagnoses, medication, allergies, immunizations, vital signs and medical histories.

Using the data on the site, medical researchers will be able to predict outbreaks of illnesses, Practice Fusion reported.

"To predict outbreaks, researchers and public health practitioners need reliable information on the geographical distribution and incidence of disease as quickly as possible," Marcus explained. "By looking at the number of patient visits related to different diseases recorded in the EHR, we can provide data much faster than surveillance systems that rely on patients or doctors voluntarily submitting reports."

A community of 150,000 medical professionals will be able to spot health trends that should be investigated. Doctors can also use the site to solicit input from colleagues and seek ideas for new studies or collaboration, said Marcus.

A syndromic-surveillance tool on the site allows researchers to spot trends in respiratory and gastrointestinal disease in various metropolitan areas, according to Marcus.

The company's anonymized health data also links up with Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud platform through a data portal called DataMarket.

Practice Fusion offers a free Web-based EHR application and plans to launch native versions of its EHR software in Apple iOS and on Google Android later this year. At its research site, the company will provide 15,000 de-identified EHRs to data scientists for their research on health care trends.

"This sample of 15,000 de-identified patient data includes diagnoses, prescriptions, allergies, immunizations, blood pressure, weight and height, and is available for download on the site," said Marcus.

Practice Fusion's EHR database comprises more than 30 million records.

By de-identifying EHRs, the research site complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rule cfr 164.514, Practice Fusion reported. According to the rule, people with experience studying statistics and scientific principles should be unable to identify an individual by examining the data. In addition, all identifying info such as health plan ID numbers and Social Security numbers must be removed.