Where SaaS meets mHealth

From the mHealthNews archive
By Ephraim Schwartz

Long a stalwart in the healthcare landscape, Software-as-a-Service is finding new value with the advent of mHealth, disrupting business models traditionally conducted by providers and reimbursed by payers.

By adding instant and mobile access to EHRs, analytics, patient engagement, care management and data collection – without the need to support huge and costly client-server deployments – SaaS is forcing the healthcare community to reconsider the value of information and how to pay for it.

To the CIO and CTO, cloud-based EHRs offer simple access to Big Data and the subsequent analytics mined from those mountains of information without having to move around large datasets from various clients.

That capability alone is attracting customers to vendors like athenahealth and Practice Fusion, said Michael Lake, president of Circle Square, which does research, strategy consulting and business development for healthcare, life sciences and technology companies.

What’s more, even some providers not typically top of mind in the mHealth realm are weaving their way into hosted offerings. Salesforce.com, for instance, opened its SaaS platform to hundreds of mobile health application developers and now has a customer list of major healthcare companies.

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Deploying iPad and iPod touch devices, Hospital Housekeeping Systems uses Salesforce’s SaaS cloud in more 140 hospitals to manage everything from employee performance to logging maintenance requests. The ability to have dashboards viewed in real time allows Hospital Housekeeping to monitor trends and grade performance by facility, team and shift. Hospital Housekeeping also created BedWatch using the Salesforce platform as a custom bed management application.

Neuroscience company CNS Response is using the Amazon platform to create a crowdsourcing application for recommending psychiatric and medical treatments to patients with brain pattern abnormalities. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is now testing the application.

Blue Shield of California is using a form of crowdsourcing, a SaaS application that brings together teams of Blue Shield agents to answer customer questions on everything from coverage limitations to how to treat postpartum depression, all of which can then posted on Facebook or Twitter.  

Because mobility is almost by definition built into the design of SaaS, it has also proven a boon to smaller healthcare providers, who tend to use its mobile capabilities for writing prescriptions during patient visits in hospitals and in examining rooms. Indeed, Surescripts reports that smaller practices are doing more e-prescribing than larger ones –  65 percent of practices with six to 10 physicians  and 64 percent of practices with two to five physicians are e-prescribing, while large practices of more than 100 physicians e-prescribe only 34 percent of the time.

those larger customers “are waiting for companies like Epic to install the software over a period of many months,” Lake said.

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That's not to say the big guns like Epic and Cerner aren’t investing in cloud-based data warehouses that will allow real-time updating, predicting and alerting in order to underpin enterprise-level EHRs, Lake noted. 

Obviously SaaS, like all disruptive technologies, is causing a rethink in the healthcare community.

Part of the allure is that prospective customers, be those small physician practices or large health networks, can put a toe in the water. They can look at an SaaS app more closely, where mobility is a critical component and the old-fashioned client-server solution where customization, reliability and a long-term relationship with a vendor is more important now competes with the instant gratification of deploying an application that took only five minutes to install.

Ephraim Schwartz is a freelance writer based in Burlington, Vt. Schwartz is a recognized mobile expert and columnist, having spent 15 years as Editor-at-Large for InfoWorld, half of them covering the mobile space. Prior to that he was Editor-in-Chief of Laptop Magazine.

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