EHRs were initially conceived as eco-friendly stand-alone replacements for paper medical records. The digital versions would improve clerical and billing procedures, while reducing the space and waste of their traditional counterparts.

The emergence of social media and the latest iteration of the Internet have refocused our perspective on EHRs as well, with web-based medical records company Practice Fusion being one of the first companies to take advantage of post-Facebook EHRs. The company has recently unveiled two initiatives with a social media bent.

Earlier this month, Practice Fusion launched a physician-review portal that allows doctors to decide whether or not to make all of their reviews available online. Patients are now able to browse Practice Fusions network of more than 160,000 doctors and healthcare staff.

Practice Fusion has also released a HIPAA-compliant secure physician messaging feature within its EHR this month. The feature will allow doctors on the company’s network to collaborate with respect to patient care, referrals, and clinical work while utilizing the data within an EHR.

“Patient care shouldn’t end in the exam room. Legacy EHR technology has failed to provide a way for medical providers to send secure referrals, much less get a quick curbside consultation on clinical cases,” said Ryan Howard, CEO of Practice Fusion.

“Our messaging feature makes communication between providers as easy as sending a Facebook message to a friend—and this could mean the difference between life and death for a patient.”

Other companies are also starting to look at the EHR as a resource for improving care, increasing efficiency, or making a profit. Allscripts has opened up its Helios platform to enable third party software developers “have access to the tools & services needed to have a great development experience and an opportunity to co-market their applications directly to Allscripts clients,” according to the company website.

If developers were to flock to Allscripts with software and mobile apps, the company could be looking at an App Store-style marketplace. The model would join the fledgling application industry that has made Apple and Google millions of dollars. Successful startups and developers would also see a piece of this EHR-based software boom.

Lyle Berkowitz is someone who already knows what it’s like to leverage the power of an EHR into a successful business. In 2008, Berkowitz was part of a healthcare IT startup that created Healthfinch. The company’s successful RefillWizard application works in conjunction with many popular EHR systems to delegate prescription refills to a practice’s clinical staff.

On the Healthfinch website, the company makes an effective pitch about the untapped potential and current problems with many of today’s EHR systems.

“We’ve seen the problems that healthcare software causes. It slows clinicians down. It doesn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, the electronic medical record has laid the foundation for building great healthcare applications. It’s time we start realizing this promise. That’s what we do at healthfinch,” the website reads.

There are many signs that the floodgates of EHR-based software are about to open. One of the first conferences dedicated entirely to healthcare IT startups will be held this June in Philadelphia. The 54-hour event will focus entirely on developing “applications that target concrete problems in healthcare and develop a commercial case around them.”