There’s no denying it: The cloud has become an integral part of the health care delivery system. According to one recent survey, 83 percent of all health care organizations are using cloud-based services, with the vast majority of those services Software as a Service (SaaS) applications.
This represents a marked increase over the past few years, where health care organizations expressed reluctance to take advantage of the cloud due to concerns about security, regulatory compliance issues, and questions about functionality during implementation. In fact, the same survey found that only 6 percent of health care organizations have no plans to leverage the cloud in any way.
So why the sudden shift? To answer that question, you have to start by looking at how providers are using SaaS solutions.
For several years, the prevailing attitude toward the cloud was “It’s good for backups.” That is undoubtedly true. Using secure, cloud-based storage seems like a no-brainer when it comes to disaster recovery and continuity planning. Not to mention, organizations can achieve significant cost savings by backing up to the cloud rather than cumbersome tapes, which require additional physical storage. However, as cloud services have evolved, so have perceptions about how they can be used.
Currently, only about 35 percent of health care organizations are using SaaS solutions for data recovery and backups. Far more organizations (almost 49 percent) are using the technology for hosting clinical applications and data, while 38 percent are using it for health information exchange. In other words, rather than just storing data, providers are using SaaS services to record and manage patient care, and to share information with other providers. For example, physicians can use a secure SaaS solution to communicate patient information to home health providers, instead of using email, fax, or burning a disc to send via the mail or courier.
However, by far the most common use for SaaS applications in health care organizations is administrative functions. About 75 percent of organizations are using SaaS applications for financial, human resources, operation, and back office management. Using home health as an example again, a robust SaaS application allows mobile providers to synchronize with patient information while on the go, allowing for more efficient scheduling and delivery of care.
Clearly, health care organizations are beginning to see the advantages of moving to cloud-based applications for the delivery and management of care. And the advantages are significant, especially in a few key areas.
Security. Security has long been an obstacle to cloud-based SaaS adoption. Organizations, bound by strict regulations regarding the protection of PHI, have viewed the cloud as less secure and more vulnerable to data breaches and malware infections. However, the health care cloud industry has made great strides in recent years, and in many ways, the cloud is more secure than the “old” ways of managing data.
Vendors providing SaaS services understand the seriousness and complexities of data protection, and as a result, offer some of the most advanced and secure protections in the industry. These include HIPPA-compliant 128-bit encryption, multi-factor authentication protocols, and layered server security. And speaking of HIPPA, while in the past compliance rules may have kept organizations from using cloud-based services, most health care focused vendors have prioritized compliance, and offer solutions that are within the guidelines.
Scalability. One major drawback to device-based applications are the challenges of integrating legacy systems and scaling application to meet the needs of a growing organization. Cloud-based applications, on the other hand, don’t usually have those challenges. Because the platforms run separately from the existing networks, in many cases configuration and deployment takes a matter of days, if not less. Organizations can easily scale their usage up or down, depending on volume.
Real Time Updates. Coordination of care is a major concern among health care providers today, and cloud-based applications provide an elegant solution to many of the problems that have hindered effective coordination in the past. When all providers share a clinical application, they can see real time updates and make care decisions based on accurate information — without making phone calls, or sending and waiting for faxed records. Again, this is especially useful within the home health care industry, as in-home providers can immediately update patient records to alert physicians of potential issues for follow-up.
The cloud-based SaaS application market is expected to continue its unprecedented growth over the next few years as more organizations adopt the technology to realize greater efficiencies, better outcomes, and cost savings. As misconceptions about security and functionality are cleared up, it will only be a matter of time before SaaS is a necessity, not a novelty.