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Cloud Apps In The Real World

Not every clinical app is right for the cloud, but these two case studies offer some insights into what does work.

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Cloud Rx

Joni Mitchell once complained, "I've looked at clouds from both sides now, ... I really don't know clouds at all." No doubt many healthcare IT executives and practitioners share the same frustration as they try to determine whether to move at least some of their applications to a cloud service.

While an abstract discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of software as a service has value, taking a real-world look at how hospitals and practices have made the move is even more useful. With that notion in mind, here are two case studies.

The Cloud Helps Oncology Group Grow

This time last year, South Florida Radiation Oncology (SFRO) had about 10 oncologists. Since then, however, about 20 smaller offices have joined the group, growing the practice to 40 physicians and 500 employees. Such mergers are always disruptive, but since the group needed to get its combined operations running smoothly as quickly as possible, it turned to the cloud. "Practice management is the lifeblood of doctor practices, just as ERP and CRM are for other businesses," says Ravi Patel, managing director of SFRO.

Using CareCloud's software and services "has given us the ability to scale quickly," Patel says, bringing the different practices onto one practice management platform, which includes a data warehouse, billing, and analytics tools. The integration means docs no longer have to enter patient data twice, he says. CareCloud will soon introduce a cloud-based electronic health record, which SFRO will also consider using, he says.

CareCloud provides IT infrastructure, including hosted network, data storage and role-based security. It also integrates the practice's other applications--including on-premises EHRs and e-prescribing programs--with CareCloud's software services.

Because the group employs a wide range of subspecialists, it hasn't settled on any one EHR package. "There are a lot of generic and specialty EHRs out there, including general EHRs that have specialty components," Patel notes. Currently, about 40% of SFRO's practices use their own EHRs, and by the end of the year, that percentage will jump to 100%, he says, whether or not they all migrate to CareCloud's forthcoming offering.

Physicians can use the practice management software's basic analytics tools to compare the population of patients they treat, the services they provide, and their outcomes with national statistics. For instance, the tools let them know if the number of lung or skin cancer patients being treated by the group falls below previous time periods or national cancer rates. When that's the case, it prompts Patel to ask questions such as "Are we not reaching out to the community, or is there a new competitor?"

The analytics tools also help SFRO determine the effectiveness of the care they're providing. For instance, "urologists can compare their productivity with other urologists and whether there should be any adjustments in the standards of care," he says.

"There are cheaper services out there," Patel says. "But the value we see in [the cloud] is scaling." The group's doctors offices not only use the same system, but they also get upgrades at the same time, requiring less IT support than rolling out premises software at each office. And because SFRO has limited technology expertise on staff, it's happy to have a cloud provider worry about security and reliability. Says Patel: "CareCloud understands uptime."

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