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Practice Fusion Strikes Medical Device Deals to Offer Docs Real-Time Data

Partnerships reflect the shift toward a "maintenance" approach to health care.

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Practice Fusion, one of the largest providers of online electronic health records, announced partnerships on Monday with two medical device companies aimed at granting doctors real-time information about patients.

Products from AliveCor and Diasend will be able to automatically update the San Francisco company’s digital records with data about patients’ heart activity, blood glucose or insulin levels. AliveCor, also based in San Francisco, offers a heart monitor system that works with smartphones. Diasend of Sweden stores and manages data from various glucose monitors and insulin pumps.

Flowing their information into Practice Fusions’s databases could allow doctors to spot and address troubling signs before they turn into medical emergencies.

“We could easily save limbs from being amputated because blood glucose levels will stay in range,” said Matt Douglass, co-founder and vice president of platform at Practice Fusion, which raised $85 million in a round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Qualcomm late last year.

But the deals, terms of which weren’t disclosed, also allow physicians a broader view of what’s going on with patients. In fact, the partnerships underscore a broader shift underway in health care.

Much of medicine has long been based on reacting to acute symptoms, the pain that finally compels a person into a doctor’s office. But with improving sensors, communications technology and data processing, doctors have an opportunity to monitor health over longer periods or an ongoing basis. They can have more, and ideally better, information to act upon.

The metaphor often employed is a car. Sensors and lights remind you to refill the oil long before you burn out the engine. But in medicine we typically react once a patient becomes symptomatic, too often after much of the damage has been done.

But with everyone from Apple to Fitbit to Google exploring health sensors, and medical researchers continually working to better understand what all the data means, it’s likely we can apply a similar approach to “maintenance” of the human body.

At least, as the medical profession and regulations slowly shift to accommodate and take advantage of these new possibilities.

“A lot of health occurs between patient visits but almost no data is collected,” Douglass said. “The digital health space is starting to advance into the 21st century in a way that really hasn’t been possible up until this point.”

Medtronic of Minneapolis made news along these lines last week, announcing that the Food and Drug Administration had approved use of its new insertable cardiac monitor. It’s 80 percent smaller than the previous version — shrinking from pack of gum dimensions down to about a third of the size of a AAA battery. That’s the difference between surgery and a minimally invasive procedure.

The Reveal LINQ Insertable Cardiac Monitor is designed to monitor electric signals from the heart of patients who suffer from dizziness, palpitation and chest pains.

Previously, patients had to actively wave a wand over their heart whenever they wanted to download and transfer data. But the new cardiac device allows them to automatically send information to clinicians as they sleep via a monitor on their bedside table.

Doctors are immediately alerted if there’s a cardiac event, and can otherwise monitor results on an ongoing basis for clues to what’s causing the issues.

“You can see things before they turn symptomatic and react to them,” said Mark Phelps, senior director at Medtronic. “You can go above and beyond the typical, symptom based, open loop health system today.”

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