Time for an asthma check, doc? AstraZeneca-sponsored EHR reminders will tell you

Physicians who use Practice Fusion for their electronic health records know the software alerts them when certain patients need check-ups or shots. Now, there's a new alert in town, especially for asthma and COPD sufferers--but this one is funded by AstraZeneca ($AZN).

The new AstraZeneca program works by identifying current asthma or COPD patients who haven't met certain clinical guidelines. The software then creates an advisory on each patient's EHR. When clicked open, that advisory lists the funding source in the third line down: "AstraZeneca, LP."

It's the second time Practice Fusion, a free-to-physicians system that makes money on transaction fees and marketing services, has signed up a pharmaceutical sponsor for clinical advisories. Merck ($MRK) sponsored a vaccination advisory that flagged adult patients eligible for a variety of vaccines. Rolled out last April, the program included 20,000 healthcare providers over four months, and it triggered a 73% relative increase in vaccinations compared with a control group of patients.

In all more than 25,000 additional vaccines were given. How many of those shots were Merck's? The program didn't advocate particular products, under Practice Fusion rules.

AstraZeneca has reason to get doctors thinking about options for their asthma and COPD patients. In February, the company snapped up a set of respiratory drugs from Actavis ($ACT), including Tudorza Pressair and Daliresp, both developed by Forest Labs. And that deal followed an even bigger one: Last year, AZ agreed to pay up to $2.2 billion for Almirall's respiratory business, including a combo med, Duaklir, that won European approval in February. Meanwhile, longtime respiratory rival GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has several brand-new products on the market, and its aging Advair treatment has been trying to regain market share from AZ's own blockbuster Symbicort.

With the AstraZeneca alerts program, doctors can check out aggregate data on their own asthma and COPD patient populations, including the percentage diagnosed with each condition. They can see how their patients stack up against other Practice Fusion patient groups: The program shows the percentage of patients meeting clinical guidelines compared with the Practice Fusion average.

Practice Fusion CEO Ryan Howard

"[P]rograms like this empower our providers with data by giving them a quantified view into their patients' health, which ultimately has the potential to help them identify at-risk patients and promote treatment compliance," said Practice Fusion CEO Ryan Howard said in a news release.

The asthma advisory is just one of 14 CDS advisories that Practice Fusion can note in its EHR system. The electronic notes appear at the top of a patient's digital record, and they're triggered by a variety of factors in the patient's medical record, such as history, chronic conditions, previous diagnoses and demographics.

The majority of the advisories are typical Patient Quality Reporting System items that remind doctors and nurses to ask certain questions or follow up on screenings. They nudge providers about eye and foot exams for diabetics, documentation on allergies or medications, and screening or follow ups on a patient's BMI. Practice Fusion counts 112,000 medical professional users of its system with more than 100 million patient records under management.

Patient Fusion points out that sponsored alerts don't ever advocate for a particular drug company or suggest specific meds--and they strictly follow government and industry guidelines--but there are mixed feelings about the practice. A Harvard Medical School physician recently told The Wall Street Journal that he's concerned about a "fine line between recommending some kind of guidelines-based care versus recommending something that is marketing or sales-driven."

- see the Practice Fusion release
- check out the article in the WSJ

Special Report: Top 15 pharma companies by 2014 revenue - AstraZeneca