Fortunately, there may be one — cloud EHR, which is believed to be a reasonably priced stress-free solution for any practice. So is EHR implementation as good as it seems? We’ll look into the matter.
Cloud EHR implementation can address several EHR-related challenges, starting with interoperability. With regular on-premises EHR solutions, interoperability has turned into an ever-lasting pain point. This is because of the lack of communication standards between various EHR systems, high integration costs, the absence of universal patient identifiers, and insufficient participation of payers that hold massive amounts of patient data.
This is where cloud solutions may come in handy. Such solutions may help providers create a secure data hub that is available to healthcare professionals whenever and wherever they provide their services. During a public health crisis like the present pandemic, this availability of cloud-based solutions is more than relevant.
Besides, deploying an EHR on premises requires not only software but also hardware. Providers need adequate computing powers to host and process bulky EHR data, and it’s only expanding in size. With medical images getting more and more precise, the size of such files is growing steadily. With cloud solutions, this no longer becomes an issue as they are easily scalable. Providers can get more storage space on demand and pay per use, which becomes just another operational expense.
Finally, cloud EHR solutions offer better security and qualified support 24/7. Cloud experts use advanced encryption methods and stay in the know about cybersecurity threats that target clouds.
Though it’s common to compare cloud and on-premises EHRs, the cloud environment per se is not homogeneous. There are several cloud implementation models that offer specific benefits as well as drawbacks. We’ll consider those usually applied to in-house EHR systems.
There are three basic options here — a subscription-based public cloud, a custom-built private cloud, and a multi-purpose hybrid cloud.
This option may seem more attractive to medical practices. It doesn’t require a large one-time payment but offers pay-as-you-go schemes (the SaaS model). This allows medical providers to cut exorbitant healthcare costs. What’s more, with the SaaS model, providers don’t need to worry about data security — that’s the vendor’s business. Deploying an EHR system in a public cloud, an organization gains access to the vendor’s security strategy and disaster recovery plan, a useful set of tools for protecting PHI. Nowadays, experts also discuss the so-called EHR as a service, which is a customizable platform that users may fully adapt to their needs and specifics.
Providers can go for deploying EHR in a private cloud. In this case, a cloud may be hosted either on premises or in a remote cloud. In any case, the solution is available to only one organization, which considerably improves the security aspect. Nevertheless, some issues may push providers away from implementing it. The major deterrent is the costs.
Deploying a private cloud-based EHR requires a large one-time payment. For small clinics in rural areas, this might be too extravagant. What’s more, managing data may require expanding the IT team with data management and other professionals, adding up to the total cost of ownership.
This solution is an amalgamation of the two tools above. It allows providers to store sensitive data in a private cloud and operate less critical data (service descriptions, a scheduling assistant, and more) on a public cloud. This part of such a hybrid solution works on a subscription basis.
The top benefits of hybrid clouds are their flexibility and scalability. With such a solution, providers can save money by deploying some services with temporal spikes in demand (e.g. during flu vaccination) on a public cloud.
Though the benefits of the cloud are numerous, this solution has its share of drawbacks.
Cloud solutions may offer certain challenges concerning system integration. MuleSoft reports it’s an issue for about 90% of SaaS users.
Moreover, cloud security is not that bulletproof. It’s not about gaps on the vendors’ side but the notorious human factor. Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report states that external and internal threat actors literally share the pie, with 51% of attacks executed by the former and 48% by the latter.
This data once again stresses the importance of well-established data management processes. When an employee leaves their workplace, a provider’s IT department should take timely measures to deactivate their credentials. This simple step helps strengthen the security and prevent potential attacks.
Cloud EHR solutions help providers meet two industry-scale challenges—sky-high costs and insufficient interoperability. Their ubiquitous availability can facilitate patient engagement, which allows providers to build up care partnerships with patients and power preventive care—the ultimate goal of the industry.
With such impressive benefits at hand, the cloud-based EHR is very likely to become the new normal. However, cloud EHR security risks should not be ignored and left entirely to vendors or IT teams. For instance, timely credentials deactivation is in providers’ best interests, so it’s them who should make sure an adequate security protection process is in place.