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Making Sense of Cloud Computing
The cloud can mobilize your facility, but keep your surgeons and staff on the same page.
Abraham Whaley
Publish Date: March 24, 2014   |  Tags:   Healthcare IT
cloud computing

If you think that it's a big leap of faith to trust your surgical facility's critical business systems to something as haphazard as the Internet, think again. By relying on offsite computing power and a constant high-speed Internet connection, the cloud has many advantages over a traditional, on-premise model for running a surgical business. Here are 5 ways that cloud-based software can benefit your facility.

1. Efficiency. Improved cellular and network access to the Internet at all times, from all devices, has ushered in a real change in the way people work. Imagine being able to offer your surgeons a high level of data security while also allowing for remote access to review and edit clinical data. The cloud can mobilize your practice, but keep everyone on the same page. Take credentialing, for example. You can collect all the information needed for credentialing and privileges for all providers in one easy place: CV, photo, license, board credentials, DEA and state registration, malpractice history and references. You can keep copies of all credentialing applications in the same file. Then there's scheduling. You can push the patient schedule into the cloud so any provider can check his schedule at any time from anywhere. You still have continuous access to applications and information regardless of your location. The vendor is responsible for all aspects of server support. You, the end user, are simply responsible for providing the PCs, handheld tablets, printers, scanners and Internet access.

2. Economy. Another big advantage cloud software gives you over the server-client model is that it saves you thousands in software costs. Quite simply, you can shift IT costs from a capital expense to an operational expense. Advanced computing solutions are available on a subscription or per-patient basis with little upfront capital investment. Today, the declining cost of computing and the availability of cloud-based storage and software have meant a significant reduction in costs, and a shift from large capital outlays at the beginning of the contract to monthly service operating costs that you can better control and plan for. Instead of investing a significant amount to purchase a system, then paying for server maintenance, training, firewalls and backups, then performing application updates and upgrades, cloud computing lets you offload most of those overhead expenses to your vendor. Instead of financing a 6-figure purchase, you're talking about maybe a $2,000 monthly fee. Plus, you won't need a server (or a server closet!) to run everything.

Demystifying the Cloud

If you bank on the Internet, get your e-mail in a web browser, stream your movies to your TV or post pictures of your kids on Facebook, you're already on the cloud. What exactly does getting on the cloud mean? The term cloud comes from the look of technical drawings that depict the relationship between cloud services and consumers, and is also a metaphor for the fact that cloud service providers exist not in your facility but in a secure virtual environment. Here's a simpler definition of the cloud: "Using the Internet to store, manipulate and deliver data." You can always substitute "the Internet" for the cloud.

— Abraham Whaley

3. Upgrades. Cloud computing ensures that you'll always have the latest software upgrades. Your vendor is constantly making upgrades to the software, a priceless bundled feature of cloud computing. It's like when Facebook upgrades: There's not a big rollout — it just sort of shows up on your screen. Your vendors should guarantee almost 100% uptime and be responsible for managing all the patches, upgrades and backups. Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to worry about switching to ICD-10 software before October's mandatory transition? With EMR or billing software that's delivered over the cloud, you're not going to have to install a new series of discs. Next time you log in, the updated software will be there waiting for you. You're offloading all of the security and maintenance issues to a third party when you use the cloud.

When it comes to upgrades, you're never out of the upgrade cycle; you're only on the easier end of one for a while. The cloud lets you pay your monthly access and storage fees to your providers, and change plans as soon as you need more or less. Upgrades are pushed automatically, and built into monthly fees. You "pay as you go" for what you use — and only that. Scaling your IT resources up and down as you need them lets you fine-tune your budget to your needs, and lets you turn your upgrade cycle into a predictable fixed expense.

4. Security. The cloud can actually protect things better than you can, and for less money. If you have your valuable documents stored in on-site servers or on personal desktops, you are at risk. Cloud services offer auditability, encryption and redundancy. With strong end-user security practices in place, they can provide you with greater data security than the traditional server-in-the-closet model. Moving documents to the cloud not only protects them physically, but also keeps them at your fingertips and the fingertips of permissioned users. There's a real risk in having anything from a server in a closet to a dedicated IT room if you're not capable of securing it.

5. True portability. The cloud turns computing power into a utility. Your key people bring mobile devices to work every day — and take them home, too. By giving your surgeons and staff access to their work files outside of the office, you give them the tools of a work computer anywhere they go. Surgeons can handle office tasks on their own schedule, and in their own setting. Administrators can access critical documents from a phone or a home laptop as easily as they would on their desktop.

The access you pay for is everywhere: If you have a web or wireless connection, you can access your files. Workarounds like e-mailing yourself the work files you need or loading them onto USB flash drives can introduce security risks.

Tedious, in-house FTP setups or VPN'ing into the network can be complex and costly solutions. And how can you be sure you remembered to send the latest version? If your work data is hosted in the cloud, updates to files are pushed to everyone immediately, too, so you know your team always has the latest. With mobile applications and network access, employees not only can work from home, they can work from anywhere they have a mobile device and service.