Healthcare in the cloud

March 30, 2018
Andrew Bowser

Andrew Bowser is a medical writer based in Brooklyn, New York.

Today, medical practices are considering cloud services for everything from revenue cycle management to patient engagement tools. HIMSS Analytics reports that the number of healthcare provider organizations planning to use the cloud for back office functions has jumped from 22-46% within two years.

The cloud has come a long way in a short time. Just a few years ago, cloud services were primarily seen as a convenient way to store files and share data. Now medical practices are considering cloud services for everything from revenue cycle management to patient engagement tools.

The number of healthcare provider organizations planning to use the cloud for back-office functions like Office 365 and email jumped from 22.1% in 2014 to 46.7% in 2016, according to results of a recent survey from HIMSS Analytics.

The survey also showed big leaps in the number of organizations planning to use the cloud for health information exchange (from 20.0% in 2014 to 41.0% in 2016), human resources and financial applications (16.8% to 37.1%), and BCDR business continuity/disaster recovery (31.3% to 46.7%).

Dermatology practices are no exception to embracing cloud services, says Jason Tammaro, vice president of sales at Nextech, a provider of electronic medical record (EMR) and practice management software for dermatology, plastic surgery, and other medical specialties.

“We have been in business for over 20 years, and historically we were server-based,” Mr. Tammaro says. “Over the past two years, we’ve seen a huge shift to the cloud, where I would say about 90-95% of our net new business is going to the subscription-based model.”

Meanwhile, some existing Nextech customers who, in the past, purchased an in-house server are migrating to the cloud-based model, Mr. Tammaro said.

Instead of buying software that must be manually upgraded and that is limited to specific hardware, dermatology practices who opt for the cloud product pay a monthly subscription fee to access applications hosted on Nextech’s servers.

“All of our updates are done at once live. It’s a much more streamlined process from the server model where historically we worked with each client individually to come in and update their systems. Now, we click a button and everybody on the cloud gets that update at once,” Tammaro said.

BEST PRACTICES

The shift to the healthcare cloud is inevitable and rapidly taking shape. According to the research firm Markets and Markets, the global healthcare cloud computing market is forecast to reach $9.48 billion by 2020, up from just $3.73 billion in 2015. 

Proponents say cloud-based technology can reduce infrastructure and maintenance costs in dermatology practices, while providing access to data from virtually any internet-connected computer, tablet, phone or other device.

Some practice management systems allow for better integration of EMR, practice management applications, and imaging software to improve the efficiency of a practice, and potentially the bottom line.

In an article on Practice Path M.D., Tammaro said integrated cloud-based solutions can save dermatology practices time and improve productivity.

Integrated systems may allow physicians to enter information just one time and have it automatically input into other systems, such as the billing or claims submittal modules.

Cloud services also eliminate the downtime that might be caused by on-premise server failure, and the resulting tech support costs and potential patient dissatisfaction due to delayed or rescheduled appointments.

“With cloud-based solutions, these incidents almost never occur because the solution offers server redundancy to ensure fewer interruptions in service,” he said.

KEEPING IT SECURE

In an age of data breaches, cloud service providers are on the front lines, and must take every precaution to secure cloud servers from cyber attack.

Data breaches are by no means specific to cloud services, and in fact, most recent major incidents have been the result of compromised internal (rather than cloud-based) databases, according to a BBC News report.

Nevertheless, health data breaches are frequent, and may impact millions of health information records.

Surgical Dermatology Group in Alabama was notified in early June 2017 of a “cyber attack” that impacted its cloud hosting and service provider, according to a recent article in Health Data Management.

The specialty practice, which has offices in Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville, resulted in access to patient names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, medical record numbers, and charges and payments for services rendered, among other data, according to the article.

According to records of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were at least 276 individual breaches of unsecured protected health information that impacted 500 or more individuals that were reported in 2017.

Those incidents impacted an estimated 4.6 million individuals, according to a review of data provided by the department’s Breach Portal. By comparison, there were 110 reported breaches reported for 2016, impacting approximately 1.3 million individuals, the department’s records show.

Mr. Tammaro said cyber attack risks can be reduced by selecting a secure, HIPAA compliant cloud vendor, and by ensuring that controls are in place to make sure all communications with cloud hosted systems are encrypted, in transit and in storage accounts.

Nextech conducts regular monitoring of cloud activity, according to Mr. Tammaro, and has alerts that would be triggered by any suspicious activity, in addition to the tools and protection the company has in place to prevent such activity.

“We only allow authenticated sessions to cloud machines and services,” Mr. Tammaro says. “We are also conducting risk assessments (HIPAA and SOC2) in order to focus on and improve any areas where we can better secure cloud services and systems.”

Disclosures:

Mr. Tammaro is an employee of Nextech, which has an advertising relationship with Dermatology Times. This article was developed independently and was not sponsored.

References:

“The Cloud Evolution in Healthcare,” HIMSS Analytics

“Healthcare Cloud Computing Market worth $9.48 Billion by 2020,” news release

“Hackers hit dermatology practice through cloud vendor,” Health Data Management, Aug. 15, 2017

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