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More Healthcare Organizations Jump Into the Cloud
By Nick Mehta

Technology touches all aspects of our lives, including healthcare. A significant part of healthcare reform and last year’s stimulus package included funding and incentives for hospitals and doctors’ offices to digitize. The electronic system adoption rate continues to pick up steam, giving late bloomers no choice but to get on board or be left behind.

Not only have medical records become electronic, but more doctors and hospitals are communicating with patients via e-mail, which helps build personal, one-on-one relationships and speeds up response times. Even social media has a role in the healthcare industry, with doctors blogging, writing newsletters, and posting articles on various healthcare topics.

New technologies are not the only thing to affect healthcare recently. Reform debates have also been pushing for significant changes in the industry, and consolidation among organizations seems to be the biggest trend. Although the reasons for consolidation vary, economics always plays a key role. Finding ways to scale and streamline operations while remaining profitable are important factors for success in a very competitive environment. Organizations need to remain as agile as possible and evolve with the changing times.

With technology playing a bigger role in healthcare records, collaboration, and patient care than ever before, it is important to have a solid IT infrastructure in place so organizations can quickly and easily scale their operations with the growing rate of healthcare consolidation. The cloud offers an extremely viable opportunity to do so.

Moving electronic communications, archiving, and other systems to the cloud eliminates the need for IT to purchase and set up expensive on-premise hardware and software, reduces budgets and man-hours spent on managing and maintaining complex systems, and removes the need to implement additional backup solutions and purchase more storage. Furthermore, the pay-as-you-go pricing model most cloud vendors employ is much more cost-effective and helps organizations scale quickly and easily. In addition, cloud-based services allow IT resources to focus on strategic initiatives instead of running operating systems. Finally, organizations can ensure they always have the latest and greatest technologies without having to budget for additional expenditures.

While the latest technologies offer a multitude of new functionalities for healthcare organizations, they also bring more responsibilities. Much like the financial services industry, healthcare organizations need to put usage policies in place and be able to demonstrate the ability to search and monitor these communications for security, compliance, and legal reasons. HIPAA has specific regulations regarding EMRs. Any form of documentation that includes protected health information, including various forms of payment, is protected under this regulation. In addition to strict compliance requirements, HIPAA also addresses quality, security, and privacy standards for EMRs.

Although there are added responsibilities surrounding the adoption of electronic records and communications, the benefits are worth it. New technologies in the healthcare industry are helping improve care and have opened the doors of collaboration among doctors, patients, and other healthcare providers. Electronic communications are being integrated into patient records, and turnaround times involving pertinent patient information have been cut in half.

At Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., the continuing installation of an electronic system has even reduced emergency department wait times. The hospital’s chief medical information technology officer, Jeffrey Hackman, MD, said the facility has also given pharmacists more time to study medication orders because they don’t need to double-check dosages against as many paper records. In addition, the electronic system helps remind physicians to look for signs of domestic violence, medication allergies, or other situations that can be overlooked in a hectic environment.

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve in 2012, more organizations will embrace the use of EMRs and other social media communications. The risks are minimal, especially if organizations are proactive, and the benefits are wide, allowing healthcare organizations to operate more efficiently and improve patient care while evolving with new innovations and the industry as a whole. The cloud is the perfect place to meet current and future needs without negatively impacting tight budgets.

— Nick Mehta is CEO of LiveOffice.