By Steven J. Kraus, DC, DIBCN, CCSP, FASA, FICC
Cloud computing is not only going to permanently change the way you interact with you clinic records and software but is going to change the security and accessibility of our clinical and patient data as well. Shifting to the cloud will alter the way you practice and will finally recognize our profession for the contributions we make to our nation’s health.
Cloud computing is going to change the way chiropractors practice in three ways:
1) Data back-up will be less costly and easier to maintain
2) Data will be more secure and permanent
3) Data will be more accessible to us and our patients
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing: an internet accessible database of your clinic’s patient chart and your practice management systems data. This happens when the Internet itself becomes the connecting method where your data is stored and managed.
First, cloud computing will not be like current web-based programs. These programs allow you access to the software through a web browser, where you sign-in through web-browser, and everything is stored on a web server.
Second, cloud computing is not like the “client-server” model where the software and the data is stored within the four walls of your clinic. This model deals with computers that need software programs that then need licenses which we then have to install on our machines and go from there. Larger clinics have to have an internal network hooked to an internal server.
The benefits and weaknesses
The major benefit of the browser-based model is that it’s simple. There’s no extensive software to install, and not a lot of hardware to buy, just access to the Internet. This simplicity does come with a price: the software itself is simplified and it cannot be as graphics-heavy and robust.
The strengths and weaknesses of the client-server model are actually the opposite. The client-server is faster and can be graphics-heavy, because everything is stored locally. This then involves more hardware, infrastructure, and running of servers.
Internet-computing with power
Cloud computing effectively offers us the robust software that we are used to with the client-server model, along with the simplicity of the web-browser model. Much of the software is stored on your local PCs. But the connection to the cloud’s servers means you can network your computers without a server inside your office. When you log-on to your clinic software suite through your computer, you will be using the EHR software loaded on your PC for screen interfaces. You will be using the internet to access the cloud servers for your database.
Lower Costs and easier to access data
With Internet-based data you need less “stuff” to make your software work, and that means savings. The cloud model simplifies the process of establishing and implementing an EHR into a clinic. With a few regular computers hooked up to the cloud through a local high speed Internet connection, the office is ready to go.
As technology advances we are able to save more and more data in smaller and smaller spaces. This combined with the fact that the HIPAA-compliant paper-file storage units, file folders, and all the accessories that make paper records work, will not be necessary, further reducing costs.
This technology is relatively simple: with less hardware, and everything being stored remotely on cheaper memory, cloud computing will eventually decrease the costs associated with electronic health records.
Safer and more permanent records
We tend to think that digital data is more vulnerable than paper records, but nothing is further from the truth. Just like credit card data, banking data, and your Amazon purchase history, private health information will be adequately protected and secured by federal standards like encryption technology.
Cloud data is so accessible because of what makes it safer than paper: redundancy. When you write a SOAP note by hand, you get one copy of that SOAP note. When you write a SOAP note within an electronic health record on the cloud, you get that original note, a backup, and even a second and third backup on different servers.
More accessibility and transparency
Cloud computing will protect our data from prying eyes and give us the ability to aggregate patient de-identified data to demonstrate our outcomes. Outcomes data is going to be more transparent to our patients and the health care community as we move forward.
Cloud computing will also allow faster sharing of records in a multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary setting. In the traditional electronic health record model, we would electronically fax or email a narrative report. Soon there will be state-operated Health Information Exchanges (HIE) that will allow you to obtain information on your patients. In the near future of cloud computing, we might see medical doctors logging in to HIE to see their patient health data and learn that chiropractic care has resulted in a successful outcome for the patients.
Less costly, safer and secure, faster access
The shift to running our clinic software through powerful remote servers is going to reduce hardware requirements needed to run clinics. It is also going to make our data storage less costly and more secure, and ultimately more accessible, to better improve the care we deliver to our patients.