As we were drafting this post, Amazon’s S3 storage service went down for several hours. Even if you weren’t aware of exactly what was happening from a technical standpoint, you probably noticed services or websites that weren’t working on February 28. Amazon S3 underpins a lot of the internet so there was quite a bit of consternation when it decided to take a nap. The S3 service guarantees 99.9% uptime and, according to the TechCrunch article linked above, has been consistent outside of two notable events. Despite the high profile problem, Amazon and its competitors offer extremely reliable services. Therefore, that event certainly adds a new context to the topic of cloud-based storage, but doesn’t really change anything that follows. So here we go…
Remember the 90’s? Heck, even the ‘00s. Even, maybe 2010? Back in the old, slow days when you ran out of hard drive space and had to burn your data to a disk, then a CD, then DVDs with a whopping 4.7 gigs on them. Then, when you had a stack of coasters to last a lifetime, external storage started becoming more affordable and you could pick up a couple hundred gigs on a USB or firewire drive for a couple hundred dollars.
Anyway, point is, we all ran out of space pretty frequently and had to physically move digital data. It was a pain, and it was slow, and it was expensive.
In addition, most software ran on your local system. Whether it was enterprise software or minesweeper, new programs were installed on your computer or, for the big stuff, packed onto a small server within your company (often called a client-server). Once again, we were all limited by processing power and local storage space.
Maybe it wasn’t so bad for personal stuff. But for high-powered work-related software and data, there was (ok, still is) certainly a risk to having everything running on systems inside your office. Sure, your IT team has automatic backups running every night, and they’re checking to ensure the computers can handle whatever they’re pulling from the local server. Even so, if something goes down, there’s a good bit of time to restore it. There was also the advantage of being able to run your systems without depending on an internet connection. Which was great back in the days of 56k dialup.
Local systems also meant that, barring a pretty significant hack, no one outside the office could access information like patient records. Which was great, except for those times a provider needed to look over those records from a second location.
Ok, so we’re being a little bit hard on client-server systems. Still, the internet is now built in such a way as to make cloud-based computing a far more appealing option in many cases, including for medical practices.
Cloud computing simply means that an end-user uses their local computer to access a program or data running or stored on a distant server. With a decent internet connection, the user can interact with the information in real time, almost, if not as fast as if it were running on their own computer.
The advantages of cloud-based systems for a medical practice are numerous. Really, just take the opposite of most of the issues mentioned above for client-server systems and you have it figured out. But to be specific…
We usually end with money, so we’ll start with it for a change of pace. The opportunities for cost-savings with cloud services over client-server software are significant. Yes, you will be paying a subscription fee instead of a one-time purchase plus occasional upgrades. Even so, it will likely be less over the long term than purchasing a piece of software for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars every few years. By pooling relatively small subscription fees, the software developer still makes an excellent profit on its software as a service, and can make constant tweaks and upgrades to keep everything current.
Providers of cloud-based services such as EHRs do nothing else. This section really encompasses all of the others. The company, rather than your practice’s IT team, handles security and upgrades and hardware and everything else. It’s their lifeblood, so they have the resources and the incentive to get it right.
No need to go out and buy more hard drives and have your IT team migrate data onto something with greater capacity. With cloud services, your resources grow with your needs. Depending on the system there will probably be a cutoff point at which you’ll get bumped to a larger, more expensive plan, but at that point your practice is growing so everyone wins. In other words, the growth that you want to see no longer needs to be a burden. Instead, it’s a seamless evolution where your tools adapt to your practice.
Your physicians offer patients treatment options with 70% or even 95% success rates. When those numbers are quoted, people take them. Well, cloud-based servers usually come with uptime guarantees that aren’t just above 95%, but above 99%. Additionally, any good system will have numerous redundancies in place so that if something catastrophic happens at one server farm, your data is stored in at least one (and usually more) other. Those rare moments when a server is down can be frightening, but on a system with 99.9% uptime (and many are higher) you’re talking about 52 minutes and 34 seconds per year. Pretty good odds, if you ask us.
This is obviously a big one. IT teams across all industries are always concerned about data breaches. The numerous breaches at retailers and online services over the past few years has made consumers understandably wary. Recently, medical data has become a common target for people looking to make some money off of ransoms. So it’s incredibly important to have all possible safeguards in place, whether using cloud services or not. In the case of cloud services, though, medical practices have teams of support staff to help prevent problems from occurring and, in the (still relatively rare) cases when a breach occurs, mitigating and recovering. Encryption may also be better with the resources available to a provider of cloud services, helping to avoid problems in the first place.
As technology continues to evolve and data transfer speeds continue to increase, the dependence on cloud-based services will, as well. We can’t guarantee that making this change is the right decision for your practice, but there’s a very good chance that it is. At a minimum, we will offer our usual recommendation to carry out a full, honest audit of your existing IT services and consider whether now might be a good time to shift away from client-server and to start renting a small piece of the cloud.
Questions about cloud-based technology for your medical practice? Get in touch today!