Guest blog post by: Omri Erel @SaaSAddict
Director of Marketing at www.WalkMe.com
Cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications have revolutionized the way we work. Now, it appears that SaaS apps are even changing the core operations of the health care industry. In fact, 18.8 percent of health care providers plan to implement cloud-based solutions over the next year and 22.2 percent of health care insurance companies are planning to do the same.
For those who are just discovering the cloud, SaaS apps are tools for software deployment, whereby an app provider hosts an application and allows a customer to access the software solution on-demand for a fee (usually a monthly fee). The software and related data that is transmitted through the application are stored on an online network (referred to as the “the cloud”), with a web browser serving as the point of access for software users.
SaaS versions of several healthcare applications, including practice management software, EMR (electronic medical record) and EHR (electronic health record) software, and revenue cycle management software have become commonplace over the last several years. Yet, despite the cloud’s widespread growth and potential, the health care industry has been relatively late—and comparatively slow—to adopt its use.
This article explores some of the benefits that SaaS apps offer to the health care industry, and the reasons why some medical professionals may be wary of all that the cloud has to offer.
SaaS Apps Offer Cost Savings Opportunities and Resourcing Advantages
Until several years ago, most of the activity surrounding SaaS applications in the health care industry has been with smaller hospitals or medical practices. There are several reasons for this. One reason focusses on cost considerations. SaaS apps are based on a pay-for-use model, meaning a hospital or practice pays a monthly fee for its employees to access the software system. This model eliminates the need for a significant upfront capital expense, and in many cases, this monthly fee looks extremely attractive when compared to the more expensive prices of licensed-based, installed software systems.
In addition, some SaaS app providers will allow a practice to download all of the necessary components of the application to test the software free-of-charge for a month trial period—a trial opportunity that is usually not extended with most on-premise, installed systems.
Another benefit of SaaS is that it requires little or no IT support. When you subscribe to a SaaS app, you don’t have to dedicate your in-house IT staff to implement the solution or hire a systems integrator to install and integrate the product with your existing software applications. All periodic software upgrades and version releases are executed for you by the application provider, and all content is regularly backed up on an off-site server location.
Access to Key Information Anytime, Anywhere
Cloud-based apps give medical professionals full access to data across virtually any web-enabled device, so they can be productive in more places. In the SaaS ecosystem, data is stored in the cloud–not on one particular computer–so employees can connect with all of the information they need and get work done from any Internet connection. This gives doctors and other practitioners seamless access to information at work, at home, on the road and from their mobile devices. With traditional, installed software, important data can be trapped in software that is only available on a limited set of devices, preventing medical professionals from being their most productive.
The Inhibitors to Broader Adoption of SaaS Apps in the Health Care Industry
With all of the well-known advantages of SaaS apps being touted throughout the industry, some people may ask, “why aren’t SaaS apps more ubiquitous?” One of the challenges to greater cloud computing adoption focusses on lingering concerns about the security of the cloud.
While most SaaS ECM (enterprise content management) providers allow for permission-based security rules, and include multi-layer authentication and encryption for all data being exchanged, the fact remains that (in most cases) patient and practice data will be stored at an off-site server facility, which arouses patient privacy concerns. Furthermore, medical professionals have little or no control over the disaster recovery protocols that the SaaS provider places on data.
Given the above considerations, the SaaS app risk-reward equation can be a notable hurdle to overcome, but one that’s surmountable if app providers and health care IT leaders embrace the new realities of the practice of medicine in today’s cloud-oriented, mobile world. Moreover, app providers have taken heed of the fact that medical professionals are increasingly subject to regulations (and regulatory bodies) governing the acquisition, storage and use of the patient data that they gather. Collectively, this has made data security a paramount priority for app providers.
Science Fiction or Reality?
In fact, cloud computing has taken the health care industry to such a high level of technology that it seems to parallel elements of science fiction. One of the things that super cloud computing has advanced in the health care industry is sophisticated A.I., or “artificial intelligence.” While A.I. won’t manifest itself in the way that science fiction would have us believe, some sophisticated SaaS apps are capable of hyper complex, abstract analysis, which is proving essential for emergency surgeries and remote diagnoses that would be otherwise be impossible today.
With high-powered computation and the centralization of data that some SaaS apps afford, we will witness in this decade the capacity for surgeons to perform operations remotely through cloud-based interfaces and robotic apparatuses. While this may seem foreboding to some, imagine the lives that these apps will help save, when emergency medical centers can be located anywhere, and best-in-class doctors can be contacted from thousands of miles away to apply their life preserving skills (with no wait times). Consider for a moment, just how many people die each year because they are too remote for specialized medical care. Yet, this is just the beginning.
Cisco Systems has already started experimenting with live streamed vital readouts and monitoring systems that, thanks in part to centralized cloud computing, will greatly improve the quality of life for those who are currently relegated to nursing homes or convalescent centers. As a result of these near-term medical advancements, the ill and elderly will soon be able to enjoy the comfort of their own homes with instant vital stats made available to nursing and physician personnel, who can act remotely in emergency situations, regardless of distance or location. Such technology is not decades away; rather, it’s on the immediate horizon, as we wait for medical infrastructure and legacy systems to catch up.
In the meantime, while A.I. and ultra-powerful computing isn’t readily on the shelf for all of our medical needs, SaaS apps and the evolving cloud infrastructure have already made medical records and trans-facility communications commonplace, with the growing centrality of data. This has already saved thousands of lives, which may have otherwise been lost due to wait times or errors in acquiring critical medical records from other facilities.
Selecting the Right Health Care Apps
When selecting a SaaS app for a health care setting, it’s important to keep in mind that Software-as-a-Service apps are not just products. Rather, they are (software) services provided by, and continually supported by, the people that work for the app provider.
Medical professionals and app providers alike sometimes forget about the “service” element of the SaaS equation. Naturally, it’s easy to get caught up in the software side of things; however, a SaaS app provider will never be very successful without solid customer support and user guidance.
When determining which SaaS solution is right for your team or medical practice, make sure that the app(s) that you select are built using open standards. This will allow the software to be more easily integrated with other applications. Also, if selecting cloud-based apps for a medical practice, your services for practice management, EHR, and care coordination should allow you to:
- -Create and push out new database “rules” that automatically benefit every element of a medical practice;
- -Keep your software updated and prepare your practice for ANSI 5010 and ICD-10 changes.
- -Provide formulary checking;
- -Deploy appointment reminders and offer health information via patient portals;
- -Alert the medical professional to potential drug interactions—in real-time, during patient encounters;
- -Employ a document service team to process and manage faxes and paperwork in the cloud.
Perhaps most important, the right SaaS app provider should act as a partner, not just a software vendor.
Cloud-based applications in the health care industry go far beyond just delivering software. They offer solutions that are flexible, scalable, cost-effective, and further designed to enhance patient care. Ultimately, the combination of SaaS apps, knowledge, and enhanced medical service drives improved results for all stakeholders—care providers, insurance companies, health care administrators and patients alike. As SaaS apps represent one of the highest levels of technological advancement in the evolution of the health care industry, it has become clear that the time to reach for the cloud is now.