Can a Client Server EHR Provide All the Same Benefits of Cloud EHR?

Posted on August 25, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

One of the most popular battles discussions we’ve had on this site since the beginning is around client server EHR software versus cloud EHR software. It’s a really interesting discussion and much like our US political system, most people fall into one camp or the other and like to see the world from whatever ideology their company approaches.

The reality I’ve found is that there are pros and cons to each side. Certainly cloud has won out in most industries, but there are some compelling reasons why cloud hasn’t taken hold in many parts of healthcare.

With that in mind, a client server EHR vendor asked me to list out the reasons why someone should go with a Cloud EHR over client server. Here’s my off the cuff responses:

No IT Support Needed beyond desktop support – This is a big benefit that many like. Plus, they add in the cost of the server, the cost of the local IT person and so they see it as a huge benefit to go with cloud software

Automatic Updated Software – Not always true with the cloud, but they like that the software just updates and they don’t have to go around updating software. Of course, this also has its downsides (ie. when an update happens automatically and breaks something)

Small Upfront Cost – Most Cloud solutions are billed on a monthly charge with little to no upfront cost. We could argue the accounting pieces of this and whether it’s really any better, but it feels better even if many cloud providers require the 1-2 year commitment. In some large organizations this type of payment plan is better for their accounting as well (ie. depreciation of equipment, etc)

More Secure – Obviously this could be argued either way, but those that believe cloud is more secure believe that a cloud provider has more resources and expertise to make their cloud secure vs an in house server where no one might have expertise

More Reliable (backup/disaster recovery) – Similar to the secure argument as far as expertise and ability to provide this reliability

Single Database – There are cool things you can do with data when every doctor is on one database and one standard data structure.

Available Everywhere – At home, office, hospital, etc. (Yes, this can be done by many client server as well, but not usually with the same experience).

I’m sure that a cloud EHR provider could add to my list and I hope they will in the comments. As I was making the list, I wondered to myself if a client server EHR vendor could provide all of the benefits listed above. Let me go through each.

No IT Support Needed beyond desktop support – Some EHR vendors will do all the IT support for the user. Plus, it’s a little bit of a misnomer that you need no IT support with a cloud hosted EHR. You still need someone to service your network and computers. More importantly though, most client server EHR vendors are offering a hosted EHR option which basically provides this same benefit to a practice.

Automatic Updated Software – More and more client server vendors are moving to this approach for updates as well. This is particularly true when they offer a hosted EHR environment where they can easily update the EHR. It’s a different mentality for client server EHR vendors, but it can be done in the client server environment.

Small Upfront Cost – We’ve seen this same offer from almost all of the client server EHR companies. It’s a hard switch for EHR companies to make the change from large up front payments to reoccurring revenue, but I’m seeing it happening all over the industry. The only exception might be the big hospital EHR purchase. In the ambulatory EHR market, I think everyone offers the monthly payment option.

More Secure – This is one that could be argued either way. Either one could be more secure. Client Server vs Cloud EHR doesn’t determine the security. A client server EHR can be just as secure or even more secure than a cloud EHR. I agree that generally speaking, cloud EHR is probably more secure than client server, but that’s speaking very broadly. If you care about security, you can secure a client server EHR as much or more than a cloud EHR.

More Reliable (backup/disaster recovery) – Similar to secure, you can invest in a client server infrastructure that is just as reliable as a cloud EHR. It’s true that a cloud EHR vendor can invest more money in redundant systems usually. However, a client server EHR vendor that hosts the EHR could invest just as much.

Single Database – This is the one major challenge where I think client server has a much harder time than a single database cloud EHR provider. Sure, you can export the data from all of the client server EHR software into a single database in order to do queries across client server EHR installs. A few vendors are doing just that. So, I guess it’s possible, but it’s still not happening very many places and not across all the data yet.

Available Everywhere – This can be done by client server as well, but the experience is often a subset of the in office experience. Although, this is rapidly changing. Bandwidth and technology have gotten so good, that even a client server install can be done pretty much anywhere on any device.

Looking through this list, it makes a great case for why client server EHR software is going to be around for a long time to come. There’s nothing on the list that’s so compelling about cloud hosted EHR software that makes it a clear cut winner.

As I thought about this topic, I tried to understand why cloud’s been the clear cut winner in so many other areas of technology. The answer for me is that in our lives portability has mattered a lot more to us. In healthcare it hasn’t mattered as much. Plus, new client server technologies have been portable enough.

Long story short, I’m a fan of cloud technologies in general, but if I were a provider and a client server technology provided me more features, functions, better workflow, etc, than a cloud EHR, I wouldn’t be afraid to select a client server EHR either.

Also worth clarifying is that this post outlines how a client server EHR can provide all of the same benefits of a cloud EHR. However, just because a client server EHR can provide those benefits, doesn’t mean that they do. Many have chosen not to offer the above solutions. Although, the same goes for cloud EHR as well.

What do you think? Are there other reasons why cloud EHR technology is so much better than client server? Is there something I’ve missed? I look forward to reading your comments.