Kickback scheme allowed pharma cos. to influence EHR software with opioid prescriptions

Electronic health record vendor Practice Fusion has settled criminal and civil investigations with the Department of Justice for $145 million.

Practice Fusion, based in San Francisco, admitted under terms of the criminal resolution that it solicited and received kickbacks from “a major opioid company,” while the EHR software was used to influence physicians to prescribe opioid pain medications.

“Across the country, physicians rely on electronic health records software to provide vital patient data and unbiased medical information during critical encounters with patients,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ethan Davis of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said in a statement. “Kickbacks from drug companies to software vendors that are designed to improperly influence the physician-patient relationship are unacceptable.”

Practice Fusion agreed to pay $26 million in criminal fines and forfeiture, as well as $118.5 million in separate civil settlements to the federal government and states.

The EHR company allegedly allowed pharmaceutical companies to have a hand in designing the clinical decision support (CDS) alert, sometimes even drafting the language used in the alert. The CDS alerts that were implemented were sometimes not reflective of accepted medical standards, according to the DOJ, by aiming to increase sales of pharma companies’ products.

Healthcare providers using Practice Fusion’s EHR software wrote “numerous” prescriptions based on the CDS alerts designed by pharmaceutical companies from 2014 to 2019. Over the past several years, the United States have attempted to get a grip on a worsening opioid overdose and abuse epidemic; 68,000 deaths were reported in 2018.

“Practice Fusion’s conduct is abhorrent,” said Christina E. Nolan, U.S. Attorney for the District of Vermont. “During the height of the opioid crisis, the company took a million-dollar kickback to allow an opioid company to inject itself in the sacred doctor-patient relationship so that it could peddle even more of its highly addictive and dangerous opioids. The companies illegally conspired to allow the drug company to have its thumb on the scale at precisely the moment a doctor was making incredibly intimate, personal and important decisions about a patient’s medical care, including the need for pain medication and prescription amounts.”