Support for the adoption of cloud hosting in healthcare in order to meet meaningful use standards, foster the exchange of information and improve economic conditions is increasing. A scholarly article published late last year by the American Journal of Public Health, Public Health Surveillance and Meaningful Use Regulations: A Crisis of Opportunity, states:
Cloud computing may be a solution for public health information systems. Through shared computing resources, public health departments could reap the benefits of electronic reporting within federal funding constraints.
…public health would have a new computing infrastructure to support connections with healthcare for meaningful use. Remote hosting and shared systems would overcome the problem of insufficient funding and infrastructure for public health systems.
The article focuses on the issue of integrating meaningful use requirements into the mandatory automation of EHRs (electronic health records), and several common industry challenges that healthcare organizations face, including:
- Different types of IT systems
- Diverse and numerous service providers
- Costs of becoming compliant within requirements
EHR Implementation: Costs and Controversies
In a survey conducted by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers, 77 percent of respondents cite a lack of funding as the main demotivating factor in EHR implementation. One common misconception is that EHR systems aren’t beneficial in any way or even cost-effective in the long run – a recent NYTimes.com article is more infamously misconstrued as sending the wrong message on the topic.
The article cites a Health Affairs study that concluded the amount of tests ordered by doctors goes up with the use of digital records systems, implying that EHR systems lead to an influx of expenses not seen with the use of paper records, and are unlikely to cut healthcare costs. The study has been criticized for its limited data set and basis on correlation, not a controlled test, by field experts and the media, and even in a blog post written by the very author of the article, Steve Lohr.
Lohr writes a great blog post in response to the outcry over his NYTimes article [including widely circulated criticism from Farzad Mostashari, the National Coordinator for Health Information technology) that goes on to provide a quote from a doctor cut from the article for space: “An electronic health record is only part of the solution. The real gains come from improving the quality of the information the doctor receives, so it is more accurate, complete and timely.”
He goes on to make the point that healthcare, as an economic system, is based on a fee-per-service incentive model, and not on actually making patients healthier. EHRs are part of the plan to change the current system to provide incentives based on the health of patients, not just the amount of services rendered, to ensure overall, permanent cost-savings.
This then developed into a larger discussion on the state of American healthcare and costs that isn’t relevant here, but he makes a great point that the debate is not about whether or not the technology should or should not be adopted, but rather how it should be adopted – there is ultimate consensus that EHRs will and do improve healthcare workflow efficiency.
So what is the actual impact of a fully functional EHR system on healthcare organizations’ operations and communications?
According to HealthIT.gov and the scholarly article “Systematic Review: Impact of Health Information Technology on Quality, Efficiency and Costs of Medical Care,” the top three positive impacts include the quality of communication with other providers (92 percent), prescription refills (95 percent) and, as the top contender, timely access to medical records (97 percent).
How Does Cloud Computing Fit into the Picture?
If healthcare organizations have a limited budget for EHR system implementation due to related costs of supporting a change in their IT infrastructure, then cloud computing can offer a viable solution by eliminating capital costs and providing on-demand network access.
To take full advantage of cost-savings and remove the barrier of not having time or personnel to manage a new IT infrastructure, outsourcing to a HIPAA cloud hosting vendor just makes sense. As a healthcare company that handles PHI (protected health information), by law, you need to meet HIPAA compliance standards for your data hosting solution and the data centers your PHI is hosted in. If you need to change your IT infrastructure and still meet compliance under budget, a HIPAA hosting provider can help, provided they are knowledgeable about the law and physical, network and technical security requirements.
Security in the cloud is another issue the AJPH article addresses by verifying that cloud applications can meet HIPAA compliance security requirements by means of a number of methods: VPNs (virtual private networks) to encrypt data transmissions and firewalls. Antivrus and OS patch management is also required.
In addition to being a cost-effective and secure solution, cloud hosting services can provide ease of data sharing with other users across networks for real-time collaboration and more efficient workflows, saving time, and theoretically, improving patient care.
Digital Records May Not Cut Health Costs, Study Cautions
The Benefits of Electronic Health Records (EHRs)
Systematic Review: Impact of Health Information Technology on Quality, Efficiency and Costs of Medical Care
Recent Study: Get the Facts