EHRs in the cloud: Why smaller healthcare providers are making the leap

Providers say flexible platforms help them to prepare for population health management and value-based care.
By Bill Siwicki
09:25 AM
EHRs in the cloud

Add one more to the growing list of healthcare providers moving their EHRs into the cloud. Coastal Orthopedics in Conway, South Carolina, consolidated its legacy electronic health records and practice management systems into the cloud and is seeing tangible results already. 

Hospitals of various sizes, including University of California San Diego and UC Irvine Health just this month, have opted for cloud-based EHRs recently. On the smaller end of the provider scale, Lost Rivers Medical Center in Arco, Idaho, and Faith Community Hospital in Jacksboro, Texas, have also moved their EHR and related software into the cloud. 

[Also: Cloud computing decision guide: Breaking down 7 top solutions for healthcare]

While UCSD and UC Irvine Health are running Epic’s EHR in a private cloud on the vendor’s campus, Coastal Orthopedics went with athenahealth. 

Coastal’s choice

Coastal Orthopedics staff was overwhelmed with managing separate electronic health record and practice management systems that didn’t provide a platform for growth or help prepare them for population health management and value-based care.

Since the November 2016 implementation, Coastal Orthopedics has reduced its days in accounts receivable to 31 with complete visibility into payments, achieved a 66 percent same-day encounter close rate, streamlined workflows to reduce work for staff and providers, and positioned the clinic to meet new quality programs, said Andrew Wade, practice administrator at Coastal Orthopedics.

Wade added that cloud-based architectures can respond to rapidly changing regulatory programs and offers an ease of scalability for growth.

Population health and value-based care also had a lot to do with the move to a single, integrated system.

“We didn’t feel ready to perform under our previous systems and were concerned about the ability of our EHR and practice management applications being able to keep up with the changes,” Wade said. “One of the reasons the new system caught our eye was that we wanted to be in a position to jump in quickly and effectively as population health management becomes the new top-of-mind issue within our system.”

The clinic also leveraged the design of the application to take on more of the redundant data collection tasks, freeing up staff and providers to focus more time and energy on meaningful uses of the data instead of collection and input.

“They’re able to focus more on the patient and less on babysitting the application,” Wade said.

EHR vendors becoming more cloud-friendly, too

As more and more providers move their EHR into the cloud along with practice management, revenue cycle and population health technologies, electronic health records continue building out their software-as-a-service offerings. 

Meditech in mid-November unveiled Meditech-as-a-service, aka MaaS, a version of its EHR targeted at critical access hospitals and available in the cloud with a monthly subscription payment model. 

eClinicalWorks is gearing up to make the new version of its cloud-based EHR officially live on December 15, 2017, according to eClinicalWorks CEO Girish Navani. Navani added that eClinicalWorks 11 will bring features for the Open Connected Office, Virtual Reality and precision medicine.

And Epic CEO Judy Faulkner revealed back at HIMSS17 that her company is working on two forthcoming versions of its EHR for smaller providers. 

Navani said that at the turn of the century, about 98 percent of its clients had the software on-site and today fewer than 20 percent do. 

“In the last decade, the mindset is not to be on-premise,” Navani added. “There is a clear, clear shift toward a model of cloud. It’s a lower total cost of ownership and can be maintained by the vendor.” 

Indeed, research suggests that trend will continue. IDC estimated that by 2021, spending on cloud computing will shoot up to $530 billion, more than double what it is today. 

Healthcare IT News Editor-in-Chief Tom Sullivan contributed to this report.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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