Cloud-based software platforms are popping up everywhere. What once may have seemed like a passing fad is now embedded into many health IT applications. While many physicians are fearful of detaching from the physical server, the cloud actually presents several distinct advantages.
Here are the reasons why cloud solutions can be advantageous.
Using cloud solutions can be financially beneficial, particularly for small practices with limited budgets. Since many cloud solutions operate on a pay-as-you-go or subscription-based model, the upfront cost can be minimal.
"Small group practices are especially concerned about the impact cost could have on our business model since we work on small profit margins that can disrupt our viability," says Peter Masucci, a board-certified pediatrician practicing in Everett, Mass. "Traditional software is costly [and] includes high-priced servers and technology staff to maintain."
With dedicated IT support from the vendor, physicians and their staff can instead focus on their primary responsibilities. "Physicians can offload much of their IT administration to their cloud service providers, improving overall effectiveness and responsiveness," says Vince Vickers, healthcare technology leader for KPMG, an audit, tax, and advisory services firm. Plus recovery of lost files can be a less burdensome and potentially less expensive process too. "Patient records saved on a secure remote server are far more likely to be recovered than having EHRs stored in a desktop computer or small server in the office," says Vickers.
Availability of clinical data
One important aspect of the cloud is the availability of data, which can result in more informed decision-making as well as enhancing continuity of care. As the industry shifts to a value-based payment model, this data availability may play an instrumental role in improving care. Not only can patient records and time-sensitive information, like test results or medication changes, be available instantly for the ordering physician to review, but assists other providers involved in the patient's care as well.
"The ability to connect with outside resource labs, hospitals, imagery, a patient’s medication history, and access other providers who treat the patient allows us to manage our patients immediately and more effectively, with the complete knowledge and patient history in real time," says Masucci. "Our cloud-based operations not only alleviate a tremendous amount of back office work, but [it allows] for a more efficient office workflow [including automatic receipt] of the latest clinical updates."
The availability of data doesn't end with providers though. Cloud-based portals allow patients more immediate access to their own health information as well as to providers and the care team — all of which may strengthen patient engagement, and ideally, outcomes.
Vickers likens the use of cloud-based solutions as the "proverbial holy grail" for healthcare. "The cloud is not going away and is actually evolving and improving every day where we are finding new ways to purchase IT services 'by the drink,'" said Vickers. "The potential for interoperability across all facilities, organizations, and geography [can lead to] improved patient care at a lower cost."
Partner first, software second
Selecting a cloud vendor can be an overwhelming task, especially as more vendors enter the market. However, Masucci offers a suggestion for those searching for the right fit. "A technology partner can be our best ally, but only if we partner smart," he said. "We need to let go of the prevalent notion that the bigger the vendor, the better, and instead look at less costly, nimble, cloud-based network solutions."
Steph Weber is a freelance writer hailing from the Midwest. She writes about healthcare, finance, and small business, but finds her passion for the medical field growing in sync with the ever-changing healthcare laws.