Is there a cloud in your future? In all likelihood, it’s already here. “Cloud” computing is a new way of marketing centralized hosting technology, which actually dates back to the 1960s. Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of your computing needs as a service rather than as a suite of products that you have to purchase and maintain, and it’s actually what makes the Internet work. E-mail, Facebook and online banking are all examples of cloud technology: You connect to an application, which then connects to a database somewhere out there in “the cloud,” allowing you to do whatever the application is designed to do. You are not involved in the maintenance of these applications or their databases. You just log into a site, Gmail or Yahoo mail, for example, and use it.
Explore This IssueFebruary 2012
Why couldn’t we do that with an electronic medical record (EMR) or electronic health record (EHR) for our patients? This is precisely what cloud technology is designed to do.
Easy, Reliable Access
Think of cloud technology as a utility, similar to electricity or water. You don’t care how the electricity is generated; you simply want quality power to come into your computer or appliance when you turn on the switch. Similarly, you don’t necessarily care where water comes from; you just want clear, clean water when you fill your glass or take a shower. Cloud technology for healthcare records operates in much the same way: For a flat fee, you expect easy and secure access to your patients’ data through a familiar interface and through any device. You need instant access to an EHR, 24/7. Someone else can worry about maintaining the application and the database.
A central component of the government’s efforts to upgrade health IT and manage costs is the mandated implementation of EHRs. Inadequate capital is the most commonly cited barrier to this implementation, however, even with the help of incentives provided to encourage “meaningful use” as required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The second-highest barrier is the high maintenance costs of the systems not addressed by meaningful use. For example, there is no funding for the very expensive hardware replacement and maintenance costs required for an EHR system. Theoretically, the “cloud” could remove these barriers, because the provider bears the cost of the IT application and infrastructure. Further, because the provider also services multiple users, your maintenance costs are minimal and predictable. Think of it as a shift away from the investment in software, databases and labor to more manageable operational costs, such as rent and utility bills.