Taking Your Office into the Cloud
Changing from hard drives and servers to web-based services.
By Scott C. Spradling
Administrators wear a variety of hats during the course of any given work day. When you think of the private practice physical therapy clinic, “high tech” does not immediately come to mind. With increasing popularity of cloud-based services, the administrator can create a virtual “smart” office, hang that information technology hat on the wall, and focus on the core business of valued patient care.
Simply put, cloud computing is computing based on a service rather than a product. In the past, people would run applications or programs from software downloaded to a physical computer or server in their building. Cloud computing delivers access to the same kinds of applications through the Internet or other type of network.
The key elements of cloud-based services can be placed into three categories: applications, communication, and storage.
The primary applications useful for a physical therapy office are likely to be an electronic medical record and/or practice management system. Several cloud-based (also known as web-based or online-based) systems provide a full spectrum of modules for scheduling, billing, documentation, and management. Another application is your accounting system. Programs such as Quickbooks Online give you access to all your accounting needs anywhere and eliminates having to back up your database, send it to the accountant, and wait for reconciliation to be completed before moving into the next month.
Email seems like a no-brainer in business, but your email signature sets the tone for how you are viewed professionally; however, setting up an email account in-house can be difficult.. Why go through the hassle? Platforms like Office 365 or Google Business give you a one-stop shop for creating and managing your professional domain and email profiles. These programs offer the added bonuses of worry-free content capacity and spam/malware protection, all things that require separate costly programs for an in-house server. Theses services also include other communication tools such as Lync, Skype, or Google Talk for company-wide instant messaging and video/teleconferencing.
The terabyte is the new megabyte. Everything we do now is stored as some form of data. The more we move away from the physical into the virtual, the greater the need is for data storage. We used to worry about having enough file cabinets to hold all of our medical records and insurance explanations of benefits—now we need to make sure we have enough drive space to store all our electronic files. Maintaining, securing, protecting, backing up, and adding to physical drive space in-house is becoming cost-prohibitive given the amount of storage needed.
Cloud-based storage, such as OneDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox, offers you complete access to all of your important files anywhere and at any time. No more transferring files to a thumb drive so you can work on them later, or passing a document around so that others can “chime in” and then trying to reconcile all the proper edits. All your files are in one place—safe, secure, and accessible.
Finally, the expense for a private practice physical therapy clinic to create and maintain an in-house information technology infrastructure is no longer viable in the changing health care climate and an environment of decreasing payment. By adopting cloud-based services, companies can invest in more robust hardware (desktops, laptops, tablets) given that the traditional “wear and tear” has been replaced with accessibility. If you need to replace a computer, you no longer have to re-invest in all the software to bring a machine up to speed. Platforms like Office 365 now offer virtual office suites, so that you always have the latest versions of their popular office software, based on a user subscription–not on a license-per machine fee.
These applications and platforms are not free, and I caution against those that are free. Most of the business solutions I mentioned have a monthly per user subscription, which are cost-effective for the small business once you factor in all of the modules included versus the cost of maintaining all of those same modules in-house, along with the cost of an employee or vendor to service them. As always, make sure your policies and procedures regarding using these tools are up to date to ensure HIPAA-compliant use and that you understand the security capabilities of each program. With peace of mind so you can focus on other areas of your practice!
Scott C. Spradling is a member of the PPS Administrators Council and a certified administrator since 2011. He is the administrator of Movement Systems Physical Therapy in Seattle, Washington, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.