The next generation: Electronic Medical Records on the cloud

We’re still relatively early in the adoption of cloud technology within the healthcare sector. It’s estimated by Accenture that about 32 per cent of healthcare practices in North America are on the cloud today, lagging well behind some estimates of a 50 per cent adoption rate within the general business sector. One of the main reasons is that some physicians remain concerned about a perceived loss of control in moving to the cloud, given that it replaces the physical IT infrastructure they’ve traditionally housed within the four walls of their practice.

It’s certainly an understandable desire – wanting to see, feel and touch your technology. That said, there are compelling reasons why an increasing number of doctors are migrating their server environments and applications, like electronic medial records (EMRs), to the cloud.

EMR, for its part, is further along the same road of adoption; initial uncertainty is giving way to “mainstream” acceptance. Though full EMR adoption is still a distance away, Bell – by virtue of its acquisition of xwave in January – is dedicated to expanding the use of EMRs within the healthcare community.

Given that both technologies are destined for widespread use, the question physicians must ask themselves is, ‘What benefits can the combination of EMR and the cloud deliver to my organization?’ Some of those benefits are:

Reduced IT cost and footprint: Physicians don’t have a lot of time to think about managing IT – keeping applications and servers operating and current; they’re very busy in their clinic. And practices no longer want to absorb the cost of purchasing hardware and software.

Security and Privacy: The cloud represents a dramatic improvement in security and privacy over the status quo – paper medical files and local server model. In a non-EMR model, patient files can be easily misplaced, stolen or accessed by unauthorized personnel. And with the local, non-cloud model, the server housing all critical patient and practice information is sitting in a doctor’s office, again easily stolen or subject to unplanned downtime or failure.

In a non-cloud, non-EMR environment, the physician assumes all liability for security and privacy, neither of which is their core competency. In an EMR, cloud environment, all patient data is located in secure data centers with the highest levels of security, with the provider assumes full responsibility and liability for making sure the highest standards for security and privacy are met.

Increased interoperability – More and more medical practices are recognizing that a hospital simply cannot interface with thousands of local systems sitting in doctors’ offices all around the province. In order to be successful, they need to integrate with the hospitals through a cloud-based EMR solution. In addition to EMR, more healthcare applications and services are being offered through, and integrated inside of the cloud.

“The potential for EMR on the cloud is very tantalizing because EMRs can now be connected to other service providers accessing the cloud, like hospitals,” says Nadeem Ahmed, director, healthcare solutions with Bell. “As a physician you may want to know if one of your patients was admitted last night, or if another patient was discharged 10 minutes ago; you may want to know what the test results were when they were discharged or what medications they were on in the hospital. That requires having access to the cloud and sharing and interchanging information with other services inside the cloud, something that can’t feasibly be done with locally based EMR solution.”

Therein lies the difference between an Application Service Provider (ASP) or Software as a Service (SaaS) environment and a cloud.

The reality is that most medical practices presently operate in a private cloud, using their own data centre. The goal in a true cloud environment is to move beyond just sharing EMR data internally to exchanging data and information among a network of private clouds.

xwaveEMR, for example, is fully committed to the cloud, and by virtue of that fact, its users are now connected to 25 hospitals and the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation. Such is the promise of cloud technology and EMR: physicians can be connected in real time to all these different elements and can share the information they need to do their jobs much better.

Ahmed envisions a higher degree of information sharing among private clouds, as well as an increasing intersection between private and public clouds. He cautions, however, that strict protocols concerning privacy protection must first be established. “There will be information from the public cloud that people will want in EMRs. The question yet to be answered is who will manage and govern data privacy, and how? Other EMR information – clinical information, such as lab results and drug information, will definitely be coming out of a private, government cloud and shared with the EMR, which is another private cloud servicing physicians.”

The bottom line in healthcare is patient care, and as EMR on the cloud is adopted by a wider swath of medical practices throughout Canada, there is no doubt that patient care will improve. Physicians, accessing the absolute latest data on their patients and free from IT management responsibilities, will have taken one giant leap toward practicing pure medicine.

Anthony Wright is director of sales, advanced technology solutions, Bell. Ranked among Canada’s top 10 green solution providers by CDN in 2008 and 2009, Bell/xwave offers a complete portfolio of virtualization and consolidation services. For more information: [email protected]

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