Do You Trust the Cloud for EHRs?

A blog post today by Microsoft’s Dr. Bill Crounse got me thinking again about the cloud.

Crounse cited a new CDW poll showing that 30 percent of healthcare organizations could be considered “cloud adopters,” and for good reason. “The flexibility, scalability and lower costs associated with moving certain line of business applications to the cloud are compelling, especially for an industry like healthcare. After all, the primary focus of hospitals and clinics is caring for patients, not running an IT empire. There’s not a CIO, CFO, CEO, COO, CNO, CMIO, or CMO who wouldn’t love to shift some of their IT spending to delivering better care to the communities they serve,” Crounse wrote.

They were more likely to turn to the cloud for “commodity” services such as e-mail, file storage, videoconferencing and online learning. “Moving your ‘commodity’ applications to the cloud is an excellent place to start,” Crounse said. “I’d suggest first reaching out to your health industry peers and professional organizations to get a better sense of who’s doing what. I think when you’ve learned about some of the best health industry practices in cloud computing, you’ll be ready to explore what might be possible in your own organization.

But the fact that 30 percent of healthcare organizations use the cloud means that 70 percent do not. I suspect a lot of hospitals and physician practices still run aging, legacy client-server management systems in-house, just because that’s how people did things when those systems were first installed. As they replace their legacy technology, expect more healthcare organizations to opt for cloud services for these commodity-type services.

And what about clinical services?

At HIMSS11 back in February, Athenahealth honcho Jonathan Bush, a longtime fan of the cloud, told me he wanted to lead the “Cloud Cavalry” into Las Vegas (there’s no better place for an over-the-top spectacle, of course) next winter for HIMSS12. (See the second video for that.) Athenahealth, which has a certified, cloud-based EHR, straddles the line between clinical and administrative, and it’s not alone. I can’t think of a single ambulatory EHR vendor that doesn’t offer at least a cloud option if not a full-fledged SaaS product.

But is the cloud truly reliable for critical applications such as inpatient EHRs? In the wake of April’s Amazon EC2 cloud outage, I can imagine more than a few CIOs, practice managers and, especially, physicians are a bit skittish now.

What do you think?