Cloud-based software in healthcare: Why it's here to stay

Cloud-based computing has already reached mass adoption levels in healthcare, and over the next couple of years, the number of providers and organizations using cloud technology is projected to triple.

But even as adoption continues to accelerate, many in the industry are still only scratching the surface of what this technology can do—especially when it comes to patient engagement.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am the co-founder and president of WebPT, a software platform for rehab therapists. But, that’s not the reason I’m talking about how providers can leverage cloud-based technologies for more than just documentation and data storage. We have entered the era of the patient-consumer, and those patients are demanding higher-quality, more personalized care than ever before. And that means providers are in greater need of innovative tools that can help them meet that demand.

With that in mind, let’s dive into how healthcare providers, payers, administrators, and other professionals can tap into the more advanced features of certain EMR and EHR technologies to keep in step with the rapid transition to a value-based, consumer-focused healthcare landscape.

Managing and nurturing patient relationships
Patient engagement has become a top priority for many payers and providers—especially those in large health systems—as competitive pressures, consumer expectations, and quality-based payment methodologies continue to transform the face of health care as we know it. The beauty of certain cloud-based software systems is they help providers put patients in the care journey driver’s seat, allowing them to access their own health information, schedule appointments, and get answers when, where, and how they want to.

Increasing the frequency of patient-provider communication—particularly between visits—can help keep patients activated and on track with their care programs. Plus, when patients are able to ask questions and get feedback, they feel like they truly have a voice—and that not only makes them more invested in their care, but also improves their overall experience. Beyond sending appointment reminders, these systems can house and deliver home- and remote-care programs (e.g., physical therapy home exercise programs), nutrition information, recovery tips, and frequently asked questions and answers—all of which promote better clinical outcomes and reduce hospital readmissions.

Some technologies also enable important feedback loops through things like Net Promoter Score (NPS) tracking, which providers can use to obtain honest patient feedback—and take meaningful action to improve patient care and satisfaction. And with modern-day patients expecting a more retail-like healthcare experience, things like accessibility and convenience, feedback loops, and transparency will become increasingly important.

Containing costs and promoting system-wide efficiency
Health insurance overhauls and ever-evolving payment models have created a lot of confusion in the marketplace—for providers and patients alike. That does nothing for the patient experience, and if we are to improve that experience—while also ensuring providers receive payment—then we must use technology that brings simplicity and transparency to the process.

To do that, everyone involved in the patient’s care journey from beginning to end –– from the first pre-operative visit with the patient’s primary care physician, to the final outpatient rehab therapy appointment—must have visibility into that patient’s treatment, progress, and needs. This level of transparency across providers will not only enable a truly collaborative care model, but also help streamline operations and billing, improve outcomes, and make the care journey more seamless from the patient’s perspective. Plus, having everyone operate from a single source of truth will significantly reduce process inefficiencies that, over the long term, cost the healthcare system dearly.

Increasing bottom-line performance
Of course, from the provider’s perspective, patient care is always the top priority. But to continue delivering that care, providers must be able to turn a profit. Cloud-based software can assist with the business side of clinical care, helping providers streamline revenue cycle management, improve operations, and satisfy compliance requirements. Systems that allow for outcomes data tracking and analysis also enable facilities to demonstrate value and thus, improve payment rates. But before you can measure a patient’s outcomes, you have to get that patient through the door—and that’s where the patient relationship management component comes into the software picture.

Such systems can leverage patient data to personalize communications with existing patients—thus increasing the likelihood that patients will actually engage with those communications—as well as assist with targeting and attracting new patients. Most providers are sitting on a gold mine of information without even realizing it. For instance, some cloud-based systems provide insight into how your patients discovered you––the device they used (e.g., mobile or desktop), the keywords they searched, or the referral source (e.g., review site or social channel) that sent them your way. This information can help you better tailor your marketing and outreach efforts to ensure you meet your prospective patients where they are—and that you are there at the right time with the right information.

But once you’ve gotten the patient, how do you keep him or her loyal and engaged? While there are a number of marketing automation platforms out there to help businesses deliver personalized communication—things like automated thank-you messages, birthday emails, progress check-ins, and appointment reminders—some EMR and EHR systems are beginning to integrate healthcare-specific marketing automation technology into their software framework. This allows providers to further filter and target their messaging based on patient-specific data—like diagnoses or outcomes milestones—thus increasing the relevancy and impact of the communications.

If your organization is looking to extend reach, better coordinate care, and improve the patient experience, then now is the time to take action. The technology is there—but not all systems are prepared to meet these demands. And if we are to get all stakeholders across the care continuum to buy into using these advanced technologies, we must prioritize the use of those systems that are health care-specific, user-friendly, and interoperable.

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