There’s a lot of talk about electronic medical records (EMR) in the cloud and for good reason.

Nearly all (91%) healthcare provider executives think their organization’s ability to generate business value will increasingly hinge on their technical architecture. This includes both limitations of their current state and opportunities from cloud adoption. And over the next three to five years, I expect that very few instances of legacy EMRs will run on-premises or in data centers as EMR companies take advantage of cloud technologies.

It’s a transformation story, not a cost conversation

While it’s still in the early days of moving EMRs to the cloud, the conversations that health systems are having are often too narrow, overlooking the most compelling reasons for making the move.

The talk is typically about cost savings.

Yes, it’s true that shifting EMRs to the cloud can deliver economic benefits over time. And if you can’t identify those benefits for your organization, then it’s not the time to make the move. But you shouldn’t migrate your EMR to the cloud just to save money. Because moving EMR to the cloud tends to require significant upfront investment, and the right migration strategy is essential to earn a clear return. So it’s important to understand that the value story for EMR in the cloud goes way beyond cost savings.

Moving to cloud can change how you run your EMR. At the same time, you can extend the value of the associated data and the entire ecosystem that surrounds the EMR—and set the foundation for future integrations with cloud-based clinical applications. This capability can transform patient care and humanize healthcare in ways we aren’t even able to fully articulate today.

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If health systems don’t address their EMR systems, the rest of their clinical applications will continue to remain dormant, locked inside legacy technology.

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The EMR value story is hard to ignore

When you understand the full value story of moving EMR to the cloud, you stop asking, “Why should we do this?” and start asking “Why wouldn’t we do this?” Here are the fundamentals of the value story—and cost savings is only one of them.

  1. Strengthen security and support resiliency

    It’s no secret that security threats and cyber-attacks are increasing—and are top of mind for the C-suite in every health system. And many health systems are ill-prepared to manage cyber risks.

    With EMR in the cloud, you can simplify security policy implementation by using advanced security modeling tools native to the cloud. Also, it’s easier and more cost-effective to architect a disaster recovery environment to include an “air gapped recovery environment” in case of a ransomware attack. Cloud providers offer high-availability environments that pair your data center with ones outside your region. Multiregional disaster recovery reduces latency, offering a whole new level of resiliency. If a disaster strikes, you can seamlessly fan over to a different region.

  2. Accelerate innovation for new outcomes powered by data

    EMR in the cloud uses data from multiple sources to transform patient and corporate outcomes.

    You finally have a way to unleash the data that’s been trapped in EMRs for decades—data that most health systems have only scratched the surface on regarding the insights it can provide. Think of the possibilities of combining EMR data, financial data and publicly available data with cloud-native artificial intelligence and machine learning engines. This is where innovation is born, where you can explore wholly new ways to deliver better healthcare from both a care and cost perspective.

  3. Elevate patient and provider experiences

    Moving EMR to the cloud doesn’t automatically transform experience. It’s not a magic switch that turns on and changes everything just like that.

    EMR in the cloud puts your health system in the best position to integrate with existing clinical and non-clinical applications simply and quickly and sets the foundation for simple and secure integration with future cloud-based clinical applications. When all the data and applications sit in the same universe in the cloud, providers can work more efficiently and effectively. They can also accelerate the interpretation of patient data. And understanding patients more holistically is key to shaping the journeys to meet their individual needs.

  4. Expand interoperability and availability

    Having EMR data in the cloud and using standards like HL7 and FHIR that support interoperability makes it easier and more secure to share information.

    This is a clear improvement from how health systems share EMR data today. Most rely on clinical systems with multiple interfaces sending different pieces of patient data across unsecure networks. The cloud is built from the ground up to be secure, so there is a low probability of bad actors doing bad things.

  5. Reduce costs through new ways of working

    Finally, there’s the benefit of cost savings. As I noted earlier, it costs money to migrate to the cloud, but there is also the potential for cost savings.

    There are two areas where I see health systems getting the most immediate cost savings. You can expect to find savings in disaster recovery because you don’t have to have all your servers running all the time. And you can save money in lower-priority environments that don’t have to run all day every day. Take your master training environment, for example. Fire things up two weeks before training, refresh as needed, execute the training and leave things up for a week. Then shut things back down and fire them up again later.

Many decisions—and possibilities—ahead

The next wave of care experiences will require functionality that’s only available in the cloud. But migrating EMR to the cloud is complex. So as health systems consider cloud opportunities, there are many decisions ahead. This shift will be an evolution over time as you determine which applications should move first, and how fast.

What’s most exciting to me is what all this means for health systems’ ability to improve healthcare access, affordability, experiences and outcomes. For years, there have been so many trade-offs involved. By combining data and cloud computing, health systems can profoundly change the care they deliver and the patient journey.

Tell us about your future EMR and cloud plans. What’s stopping your healthcare system from moving your EMR to the cloud?

Chris D’hondt

Managing Director – Connected Solutions Lead, North America, Accenture

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