ryan howard

How much did your last medical visit cost?

Most of us are in the dark about health care prices, even when it comes to our own expenses. This lack of transparency around health spending is a problem that Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs are angling to solve.

San Francisco-based Practice Fusion just launched a free tool for consumers to manage their health spending. The payment-tracking service is now available on the consumer-focused site PatientFusion.com.

Recently-launched Patient Fusion also gives patients the option to book doctor’s appointments and browse physician reviews. It’s similar to the product offered by New York-based physician scheduling startup ZocDoc, so Practice Fusion is building out new features to stay competitive.

Practice Fusion is best known for its free, web-based electronic medical record (EMR) system used by doctors and medical practices, but this new product is part of an ongoing strategy to serve patients.

“We want to facilitate the entire patient journey and life cycle,” said chief executive Ryan Howard in a recent interview.

Note that the new service, which is still in beta, is only available to patients covered by national insurance payers like United and Anthem Blue Cross.

The goal for the shift into payments is to help patients and their families set aside a reasonable amount per year to spend on health care, so they won’t fall behind on bills. In-depth insurance information will be incorporated in the product, and patients can see whether a claim has been accepted or rejected.

Howard said that patients have been “disenfranchised” in the current system. Still, the challenge will be to get patients engaged in their health between visits; it’s a problem that a small startup known as CakeHealth recently faced when it launched a “Mint.com for health.”

Howard spoke on stage this week at VentureBeat’s HealthBeat conference, and revealed a bit more about the company’s long-term strategy.

“We want to have an active dialogue with patients about their health,” he said. In the future, Patient Fusion will incorporate predictive analytics and alerts; the system will let you know if you’re due for a vaccination or physical exam.

The system will get smarter still when patients are able to manually enter information about their health.

“We’re already the largest, most utilized public health record in America — but we still have so much more to do,” said Howard.

Top photo: Practice Fusion CEO Ryan Howard at HealthBeat 2013. Photo credit: Michael O’Donnell/VentureBeat.