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EHR – Practice Management Systems In The Cloud
This is the first article in my series on Cloud-Based EHR / Practice Management Systems.
In this series, I discuss and evaluate cloud-based EHR/practice management systems. These are online software solutions that allow you to manage various facets of your practice electronically, typically through a web browser. You’re probably already aware that a Practice Management Solution may handle scheduling, notes, billing, client communications, or all of the above. But how does this all work in the Cloud?
What is the Cloud?
Cloud computing is the delivery of software or storage over the Internet to a group of end users. Facebook, Dropbox and QuickBooks Online are well-known cloud solutions. These solutions exist on a server and are accessible via any device that can connect to the Internet. A more specific term for Practice Management Solutions that are delivered via the cloud is Software as a Solution (SaaS).
Why use the Cloud/SaaS?
With “traditional” software, that you install on a desktop computer or server, there is typically a significant upfront cost. You must purchase the software and sometimes hardware (computer/server) to run it. There are significant additional costs incurred should you ever need to add additional users or upgrade the software. Typically these software solutions are only accessible via a local network unless you spend even more. Further, you are then usually responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the software and hardware that runs it.
With a Cloud-based solution, the software is already installed on an Internet server owned by someone else (the vendor). All you need is an Internet connection and a web browser to access it. This allows you to enter and view your data from multiple offices and multiple devices. Typically there is little upfront cost, replaced instead by a monthly fee. This is especially valuable to smaller practices where, in the past, the financial outlay for a traditional practice management system was financially problematic.
While the long-term costs of a Cloud solution can eventually approach the cost of a traditional one, it’s important to keep a couple of factors in mind. These recurring costs cover not only maintenance and storage, but ongoing development. With most solutions, your monthly fee includes new features and upgrades that are delivered in the future. No need to purchase or install the latest version; it’s instantly delivered.
In addition, if you are a HIPAA Covered Entity, there are significant, intangible costs involved in housing electronic protected health information (ePHI) on your own computers and servers. This greatly increases your responsibility for diligence and following all of the required specifications of HIPAA (not to mention, paying heed to all the recommended specifications). It also greatly expands the time you will spend completing a risk analysis and completing the appropriate documentation to remain compliant. In going with a vendor who is willing to be a HIPAA Business Associate, (see the next article in this series), there is an opportunity to have them shoulder the bulk of the risk.
Now is a great time to be looking for a Cloud-based EHR / Practice Management System. There are dozens of companies developing solutions and competing for your business. Since this is continues to be a fairly new and developing technology, many of them are very open to hearing user feedback and developing their systems at a rapid pace. Because of this, with many solutions you can expect regular updates and new features. In my next article, I will begin detailing the features to look for and evaluate when shopping for a solution for your practice.
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Get fully informed and understand all of the implications of your EHR selection in the Guide to Choosing an EHR. In this book, Rob goes into detail and provides a step by step process for selecting the best fit EHR for your practice.
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About the Author
Rob has been covering technology and business news for mental health professionals since 2011. His extensive experience in IT, business, and private practice allow him to synthesize information in a friendly, digestible manner. He also enjoys time with his family, ultimate frisbee, and board gaming.