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Health care cloud adoption grows, albeit slowly, thanks to EHR systems

While many physicians and CIOs remain hesitant to embark on cloud adoption, it's becoming clearer that cloud services offer economic and security advantages for some providers.

What do Sasquatch, the Yeti, Nessie and health care cloud adoption have in common? We hear a lot about them, but we don't see much of them. That seems to be changing rapidly, however -- at least for cloud adoption. Technical necessities and recession realities are forcing physicians who want to adopt electronic health record (EHR) systems to consider alternatives to server-based systems in their offices.

A year ago, experts complained of low cloud adoption among health care providers, who cited concerns about uptime, security and fears that cloud vendors would seize patient data. Those same experts dismissed these fears as unfounded. Now, though, the market is indicating that the cloud's upside is starting to outweigh the fears, and cloud adoption is on the rise.

This three-part series aims to examine what's driving cloud adoption in the health care industry. While there's always some risk involved, there's also reward. Cloud vendors offer faster EHR implementations that require less up-front funding and less local IT support than locally hosted server systems. That combination is enticing even for physicians who are gun-shy about committing patient data to a system hosted remotely by someone else.

For one internist, cloud adoption means accessing patient data on many devices

The last time I upgraded my server, I spent as much as you'd spend on a small house in Dallas. That just doesn't work in primary care anymore.
Scott Yates, M.D.internist

"In my office, with three physicians, we previously had a full-time IT person, but that's not really practical. The last time I upgraded my server, I spent as much as you'd spend on a small house in Dallas. That just doesn't work in primary care anymore," said Scott Yates, M.D. a suburban Dallas internist.

"When we decided we couldn't afford to have a full-time IT person in our office, that [duty] really fell to me. Our data depended on my understanding of Microsoft's backup server system silliness. That, in my opinion, was not reasonable. We have $100,000 worth of servers in my office that I won't replace when they obsolesce, and obviously they do that pretty quickly."

Two years ago, Yates switched his practice to ClearPractice LLC's Web-hosted EHR, after a dozen years of using EHR software he hosted himself. The device independence the system brings, coupled with better technical and backup support than he could provide himself, convinced Yates to port his local data into the cloud.

On July 12 ClearPractice released Eden, an upgrade to its iPad EHR, which is one of the few optimized for the Macintosh and iPhone Safari browsers. It can also run on Windows machines through Internet Explorer.

Yates' employees use Windows machines. He uses his iPad and Mac exclusively when away from the office -- except when he's doing small tasks such as checking lab records, in which case he can get away with using his iPhone.

According to ClearPractice president Joel Andersen, that falls in line with what they figured when designing the iPhone app. While it's possible to access the entire patient chart on the iPhone, the company imagined physicians using their iPhones for simple tasks such as checking the schedule, writing prescriptions, entering bits of data when making patient rounds, checking labs and capturing charges.

Meanwhile, Yates dismissed the uptime fears associated with cloud adoption by pointing out that a cloud EHR provides an even better backup than his own server did, at least when used with a phone or 3G-enabled tablet. Because he uses a 3G iPad, he can continue entering data and updating records on the device even if the power goes down. With a server-based EHR system, all unsaved data is lost when the power goes out.

Health care providers are looking beyond EHR systems as they explore cloud adoption. Part 2 of our series -- coming tomorrow -- looks at a public behavioral health agency using online word processing software to manage supplemental care documentation.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Don Fluckinger, Features Writer.

Our series on cloud adoption in the health care industry

Cloud adoption grows, albeit slowly, thanks to EHR systems

Behavioral health agency sees benefits to online word processing

For cloud EHR users, meaningful use, data exchange low priorities

Next Steps

Health care cloud offers some risk, endless possibilities

What cloud service providers bring to the health care industry

Dig Deeper on Health care cloud architecture

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