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Meaningful Health Care Informatics Blog

Dec 18 2011   9:51PM GMT

Lessons for EHR vendors from Office 365 and Google Docs

Posted by: RedaChouffani
EHR, EHR functionality, EHR usability, EHR vendors, Electronic health records, Electronic medical records, EMR, Google, Google Docs, mhealth, mHealth apps, Microsoft, Office 365

For a while now, Google has been the front runner when it comes to web-based productivity applications.  With their Google Docs application, the company released a 100% browser-based solution that allows end users access to and use of a cost effective substitute to the Microsoft Office suite. But Microsoft was not about to throw in the towel to Google, and after a long beta phase has finally released its own version of web-based business productivity tools called Office 365.

The Office 365 products and services go well beyond the simple creation of presentations, web pages and spreadsheets via web tools.  They contain a valuable set of features and functionalities that end users are dependent on for day-to-day work.  And as we look at health care and its own line of applications that enable better, more connected patient care, one must wonder if there will be a time where electronic health records (EHRs) will learn from the lessons that companies such as Microsoft and SalesForce have identified as critical for success in the software industry.

The following is a list of eight takeaways from cloud-based applications that EHR vendors should consider as part of their long term software development strategy:

Make it cloud or browser-based:  Given the pace at which technology change is moving today, IT is more focused on aligning organizational objectives and ensuring compliance rather than managing physical servers and the downtime associated with them.  For that reason alone, many organizations are now looking to leverage cloud-based or browser-based products that require low up-front costs and offer higher up time, availability and redundancy.  Vendors such as Cerner, AthenaHealth and others provide a full hosted application model where there is very little need for a full infrastructure in-house to maintain the application.  In addition, with this model, a cloud-based application requires very little maintenance and experiences very little downtime that could be associated with upgrades, conversions or system updates.

Low up-front cost:  In every EHR implementation, there are several items that contribute to the high costs.  From workflow redesign, training and hardware procurement, to software licensing, maintenance and product support, many see the future in solutions that are provided at a monthly fee per user or business unit.  This reduces the up-front costs and allows for the organizations to appropriately budget and justify the use of the new products and solutions.

Scalability:  For products that are offered through SalesForce, Google, or Microsoft office 365, it takes the same effort to sign up 5 users as it does to sign up 5000 users; the system is designed to easily scale out.  This is all done behind the scenes, where the client is ready to start using the application right away.  This capability would benefit EHR vendors greatly as their products continuously need to have the ability to scale out, especially when there are clear indicators of health systems mergers, acquisitions and growth.

Easy to use UI:  One of the critical success factors for any user-facing product in the market, including EHR packages, is an easy to use, functional and feature rich user interface (UI).  Many EHR systems fail to impress clinicians simply due to the busy and cumbersome UI.  These products must be  easy to use and allow health professionals to attend to their patients without feeling lost in the software.

Integration: As we move toward a health care model that rewards for outcome measures, complete patient care and care team collaboration, many applications are starting to look for ways to allow for protected health information (PHI) to be exchanged, safely and securely.  For Google docs and Office 365, having the ability to connect to other systems, as well as the collaboration platforms, was a useful function in the products.  This would also be a significant feature for EHR packages.  While some do provide the ability to receive and submit health information across a given HIE, there is still a significant lack of adoption from physicians.

Collaboration: Microsoft and Google chose their own collaboration platform as part of their products.  Within Office 365 and Google Docs, there are capabilities for end users to use video conferencing and chatting capabilities.  This provides a useful method for users to communicate beyond the simple email messages.  As accountable care organizations (ACOs) begin to implement their collaboration platforms, there will be a clear demand for chat, audio and video conferencing capability.

Platform agnostic: For software vendors in today’s market, the big question from the majority of prospects and potential buyers is: “Do you have an app for that?”.  That said, for many of these products, having the mobility capability as part of their offerings is now a must-have for clinicians.  Whether it is a hospital system or a small independent physician practice with two physicians, a medical application should have some sort of mobile application that will allow its user access to the information from smartphones, tablets and many other mobile devices.

Power is in the numbers: There are clearly some very powerful players in the EHR marketplace.  These are the groups of vendors that are well established and have had incredible success with high number of users.  However, this does not always mean that there would not be a place for a disruptor.  And in the world of technology, especially the world of software products, it is all about the new, functional differentiators that a product brings to the table and the perceived the value that the software has from users in the market.  Similar to SaleForce, AthenaHealth, Facebook, Chatter, LinkedIn and the other very successful sites, there will continue to be room for new innovators that can disrupt the marketplace and continue to push the technology buck forward, especially in health care.

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EHRCloud  |   Jun 13, 2012  7:22 PM (GMT)

Good article on the basics of EHR in the cloud. Microsoft has gone a long way to integrate office, communications, and security in to a platform suitable for pt and practice management.

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