New API technology makes it quick and easy for clinical laboratories to connect to EHR interfaces

By: Brian Patchett


Brian Patchett is the chief sales officer for West Pacific Medical Laboratory, a full-service clinical reference laboratory, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.


The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, known more commonly as the stimulus bill, includes a provision—the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act—which incentivizes physicians across the country to “meaningfully use” electronic health record (EHR) systems.  

Meaningful Use allows eligible providers and hospitals to earn incentive payments for meeting specific criteria of EHR use, as defined by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). In a few short years, this EHR incentive program has already done much to reshape the health care landscape.

One health care player particularly affected by Meaningful Use is the clinical laboratory. More than 10 billion laboratory tests are performed in the United States each year, and they play a major role in determining the prognosis and treatment of chronic conditions.

Traditionally connected with physicians through old fax-based transmissions subject to downtime and errors, labs now face a sudden change of paradigm, with physicians now looking to receiving lab results electronically in an EHR in order to earn incentives. Receiving lab test results in an EHR is one of the Meaningful Use criteria—physicians must be able to demonstrate that 50% of clinical lab tests ordered are incorporated as structured EHR data.  

The challenge
To remain competitive, every clinical laboratory needs to provide EHR connectivity that allows their physicians, directly from the EHR charting workflow, to order lab tests and automatically receive results in the patient record. Labs that do not offer EHR integration are going to lose clients to labs that do. For a physician, it’s the difference of up to $44,000 in incentives.

However, the cost for labs to interface with an EHR can often range from $1,000 to $2,000 per physician, posing a financial barrier between labs and physicians to connect electronically. For physicians, on the flip side, there is the prohibitive cost of most EHR systems, which cost upwards of $50,000, leaving physicians with little choice but to rely on inefficient (and dangerous) paper records.

Our solution
West Pacific Medical Laboratory, Santa Fe Springs, Calif, is a full-service clinical reference laboratory. We decided to choose a free and Web-based EHR—Practice Fusion—so our physicians can connect with us online with no strings attached. The complete ad-supported EHR platform is free for physicians including charting, scheduling, eRx, and lab connectivity.

Screenshot of Practice Fusion lab interface for physicians.

Practice Fusion has also made it easy to rapidly connect to our clients with an application programming interface (API) that only required us to build a single connection that quickly serves all of our providers, with only one connection cost. As a result, our lab has seen an increase in revenue of over $100,000 since we got online.

Though this rate of revenue growth won’t last forever, we do anticipate signing eight to 10 physician clients a month from this point forward, a 15% to 20% increase from months before we got connected through Practice Fusion. We’ve also had an extremely positive response to the lab interface. For instance, practices are surprised to learn how quickly they can connect with West Pacific Medical Laboratory—because it is all online, signing up for the EHR takes under 5 minutes, and providers get connected to our lab within a few days of their request. Traditional server-based vendors we have talked to required months of setup and steep fees for every new provider.

The Web-based EHR, we have discovered, is particularly popular among small practice physicians looking to get incentives due to its ease of use and free price tag. Of course, medical practices can also choose from the labs of their choice through the free platform, so we do not reap all of the benefits of being connected.

In addition to connecting with West Pacific Medical Laboratory, Practice Fusion provides free integrations for doctors with over 80 labs so practices can streamline their lab results and orders. A one-time fee to connect our lab to Practice Fusion’s easy-to-use API provides a fast, seamless, direct connection to thousands of users. We can offer a free EHR to prospective clients while helping to bring them into the 21st century.

We are glad to be able to offer an easy, seamless connection to both our existing clients and clients who find us through the EHR. We are helping them provide better, more efficient care, giving them what they need to earn their incentives, and staying competitive in a changing health care ecosystem.

Brian Patchett is a contributing writer for CLP. For more information, contact Editor Judy O’Rourke, [email protected]