Moving our Medical Practice Further into the ‘Cloud’

January 12, 2012

Moving communication to Google Apps at our medical practice has boosted our communication and work flow.

We use a large Internet host provider for domain registration, website hosting and email hosting. Although their reliability is great, I felt like our e-mail functionality wasn’t keeping up with our work flow. We had to use Microsoft Outlook as a standalone client or their e-mail client within a browser, a non-starter since it lacked even basic functionality like flagging, filters, e-mail address remembrance. With Outlook, if an employee changed computers during the day, their e-mail didn’t follow, and we couldn’t share calendars or have central calendars without installing Microsoft Exchange - which we’re too small for. Finally, Outlook is limited in how it syncs with the phone. It really doesn’t; it just pulls messages.

I started looking around for alternatives to see if possibly we could host Exchange offsite but it only solved some of my problems. I've used Google's G-mail for probably close to eight years now on a personal level and I have used it for another business I have for over a year.

With the other business, I use the Google Apps for Business product, which seemed like a logical choice for our practice. So I asked around and found out my daughters’ school just switched over from Outlook to Google Apps. So I decided that over the holiday break I would migrate our mail, calendar, and contacts.

The Migration
I’m fairly technical so I didn’t have a problem doing the migration but I also always read the directions (toys, new cars, new toaster, etc.) I followed their directions and it was amazingly simple. You just have to follow the directions to the letter. They even tell you how to change your Internet provider’s settings.

I created the account and planned for some downtime while everyone was out of the office to do the migration. I moved the MX records over (these are e-mail records that tell your domain registrar where to route mail) in a matter of minutes. I then moved my e-mail over from my Outlook client to test some functionality before I committed anyone else’s e-mail.

I keep most of my e-mail, so the process for my account alone took 12 hours to move. I think their typical client has a much smaller file size. The smaller e-mail files in the office that I migrated took only a few couple of hours and went very smoothly. It moves over e-mail, folders, calendars and contacts, moving the latter two very well.

Usage after Three Weeks
We’ve been using Google Apps pretty solidly for about three weeks since installation. I’ve had minimal complaints and most requests are just questions about how to do something differently.

The training was minimal since most people already have a G-mail account. We also use Google Talk to let the physicians know when a patient is ready, e.g. “DB is ready in 2.” They love it!

I’ll mention the cons first, since these are fewer and not very impactful:

1. The migration for the individual e-mail files was tedious but very doable.
2. Outlook still has the best and easiest to use client (but not the most powerful). And it’s what most people are used to.
3. Outlook has better word processing functionality. It’s basically Microsoft Word.

In fact, I’m actually composing this blog in Word and then I will copy and paste into G-mail. But for almost everything else I can use the G-mail just fine.

There are a lot of pros to migrating to Google Apps:

1. Administration. You can administer everything from a central location, including passwords, file sharing, calendars, etc. Also you can control a lot of communication functions (“no instant messaging with outside users, no file sharing with outside users, etc)
2. No more backups of .PST files (a.k.a mail files).
3. Users can check e-mail anywhere, at anytime.
4. You can force an HTTPS (secure) connection for all users.
5. 25GB of storage / user (that’s a lot of storage space).
6. Cost: $50/user/year. (Outlook costs ~$200 /user anytime you install it).
7. Centralized dashboard which allows me to see: who is logged in, when they last logged in, for how long they were logged in, and where they logged in from. The dashboard also allows me to create calendars, install new app’s for the users in my organization, log support cases, etc. In other words, I can do anything I need to in my organization in this dashboard.
8. Phone sync works really well. It syncs both ways for calendar, contacts and mail. It is compatible with iPhones, Androids, and Blackberry devices (we have each of these in our office).
9. Centralized office calendar was HUGE for us. We can now see when everyone else is off, lunch plans, holidays, etc. It works very well!
10. Google Talk and limiting it to users inside your organization (this is what Google calls your company).
11. Very powerful email filtering, labeling and marking messages for follow-up.

Overall, the integration of Google Apps is a big win for us and it works very well in our work flow. I’m now looking at some different apps to see if they are applicable to us and I’ve been inspired to move our documents (patient input templates, patient handouts) to Google Docs. With Google Apps, I feel like it’s more secure knowing we are not using .PSTs or having to login to an unsecure site. I feel now we’re even more in the clouds.

My only regret? Not having done it years ago.

Find out more about Derrick Berger and our other Practice Notes bloggers.