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Why should small practices choose cloud-based EHR?

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- Unlike the big boys, small practices have neither the resources nor the manpower dedicated to large and sophisticated locally-hosted electronic health record (EHR) and other health information technology (IT) systems. Fortunately for small practices, the number of EHR vendors offering cloud services is growing and becoming increasingly competitive. What this means to solo or groups of providers is a unique opportunity to move away from paper records to an electronic system.

So why should a small practice opt for the cloud? Here are a few reasons.

Cloud-based solutions require less upfront cost

Few practices have the kind of money necessary to invest in an enterprise EHR solution. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars. However, choosing a cloud-based EHR requires few if any initial investment. Given the competition among vendors in this space, some are offering subscription services that are much more in line with how providers are paid. Others are finding novel ways to shift costs to advertisers or even the patients themselves, giving providers EHR technology without any direct cost.

Adopting a cloud-based EHR is a simpler process

READ MORE: Top 10 Ambulatory EHR Vendors by Physician Practice EHR Implementations

One of the fears that small practices admit is that they can’t afford any disruption in their workflows. Time is money, and giving up days or weeks implementing and EHR system could lead to lost revenue. To access the cloud, users simply need a computer, browser, and internet connection. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) makes use of existing hardware (e.g., PCs, laptops) and software (e.g., operating systems) — no additional technology must be provisioned unless your existing devices can’t handle something as simple as browsing.

Maintaining and upgrading a cloud system is the vendor’s job

Hospitals and large healthcare systems have dedicated IT staff responsible for deploying and configuring systems as well as monitoring and addressing any issues in a local system. In the cloud, small practices don’t have to shoulder this burden; instead, they can focus on their patients and practice while the system takes care of itself. Updates and fixes are automatic in SaaS solutions to the point where they’re barely noticed.

System security is handled by the system provider

Of course, small practices are still responsible for maintaining sound, HIPAA-compliant business practices of their use and sharing of protected health information (PHI). But in the cloud this no longer includes safeguarding server rooms or devices from being compromised. Cloud-based EHR vendors provide layers of encryption for their data in transit and at rest. Because access is through a browser and not local, no information is actually stored on the device — a lost device doesn’t necessarily lead to reporting a security breach.

READ MORE: Industry Collaboration Can Improve Healthcare Data Inaccuracies

Scaling up and going mobile are simplified

Managing paper records is much different than handling electronic records. Twenty thousand sheets of paper take up much more space than the same number of digital files. Adding more and more data in a structured format ensures that providers can stay on top of old and new patients alike. Moreover, small practices can use the cloud to share information and access with patients and other providers in a secure way. With data stored in a single place in the cloud, the ability to collaborate is only a matter of access. And scaling also includes the idea of increasing access to a cloud-based system from mobile devices. Your smartphone or tablet is another point of access and can move with providers more effortlessly to the ever-changing point of care.

Times are a-changing

Small practices are not large hospitals. They can afford to think and do things differently than large hospitals. The latter build internal networks because the effect of any downtime could have significant implications; thus, it’s necessary for these networks to be always running. Small practices, however, have more wiggle room. Internet connections become more reliable as technology moves forward, allowing large amounts of data to be accessed virtually whenever you want or wherever you are.

Considering what the cloud has done for banking and financial systems, isn’t it time for healthcare industry to get with the times?

READ MORE: MEDITECH Offers Users EHR-Integrated PDMP Link through Expanse

Related Articles:

Q&A with ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous: Part I
• What the 3M Healthcare Data Dictionary means to interoperability
• Study shows EHR use doesn’t equal better care
• mHealth and EHR with Brian Gardner of Kaiser Permanente
• Cloud-based EHR on the rise

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