It’s time to move forward with cloud-powered Electronic Health Records

  • Blog
  • February 19, 2024

Anupriya Ramraj

Principal, Cloud and Digital, Microsoft Practice, PwC US


Gretchen Peters

Principal, Healthcare and Life Sciences Alliance Point Partner, Google Practice, PwC US


Abbas Mooraj

Principal, Cloud & Digital for Health Services, PwC US


Healthcare providers should understand the complexities of electronic health record (EHR) systems, the journey from on-premise systems to the cloud and the benefits of modernization.

The enactment of the HITECH Act in 2009 was an essential milestone shaping the US healthcare industry. The act incentivized the use of electronic health records (EHRs) and emphasized the protection of patient data. EHR adoption has come a long way since then, when it initially faced reluctance given the high costs and tepid response from physicians. However, data-driven healthcare still remains elusive, despite the $36 billion the US government has spent on digitizing medical records.

Siloed data and the lack of interoperability frameworks have been drags on realizing data gains. The EHR systems created by numerous vendors don’t talk to each other, so physicians eventually resort to sharing medical data via fax and email. As a result, many patients still struggle to access their medical records and, in some instances, they simply can’t get the information they need.

Many of these systems remain on-premise, tethered to legacy hardware and data centers. In addition, given the stringent regulations and the sensitive nature of data being handled, the health services industry has been slow to respond to hyperscale computing.

We need to move forward. As more healthcare companies acknowledge the tremendous value captured in EHRs, it’s essential that they learn how to extract that value to provide effective healthcare while also taming costs.

Facing business challenges and cost pressures

Healthcare providers today often face increasing cost pressures, as well as expectations for achieving more data-driven insights. Legacy EHR implementations can reduce the speed-to-value of data and system resilience, but they also increase security risks. These implementations can also hinder an organization’s ability to build or deploy solutions that can help clinicians deliver better outcomes.

The challenges associated with on-premise EHR systems can affect not only well-known EHR services like Epic and Cerner, but also the surrounding applications. Cloud integration with EHRs is intended to provide healthcare providers with access to hundreds of apps. However, when these apps are hosted on legacy systems, they often cause downtime and inefficiency.

PwC’s Emerging Technology Survey 2023 offers insight into how health services companies are investing in EmTech, what benefits they are receiving from the Essential Eight and what their approach to generative AI (GenAI) is. Many health services organizations currently lag with GenAI, but planned investments may soon move them ahead.

EHR modernization can help improve business outcomes

The healthcare industry has begun to recognize the critical need to modernize. For instance, one outage at a major healthcare provider lasted for more than 24 hours and, during that downtime, the staff had to revert to paper-based charts. As a result, some elective surgeries had to be delayed or rescheduled. In a field where timely access to patient data can save lives, outages should not be taken lightly.

EHR modernization can be the key to unlocking the vast potential of cloud adoption in the industry. The primary goal is to help migrate EHR systems to cloud while also transitioning the associated applications. This change can open the door to myriad benefits.

EHR modernization can give healthcare providers the ability to embrace cloud benefits, including, for example, elasticity, resiliency, enhanced security, reduced operational risks, faster time to market and lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

Our 2023 Cloud Business Survey provides insights into potential gains healthcare organizations can realize from adopting cloud. The numbers tell us that most health services organizations have migrated to the cloud. More than half of health services executives say the cloud has improved decision-making (65%) and enhanced customer experience (58%).

Migration to cloud can unlock new care models, provide value-based care, craft omnichannel engagement, offer personalized experience and help contain costs. Following are some of the potential benefits:

  • TCO savings by reengineering workloads and utilizing cloud-native solutions to increase efficiency and continually re-optimize on better infrastructure;
  • Improved cybersecurity posture by leveraging additional cloud solutions for security, data management and privacy;
  • Increased speed to value of new care and patient experience solutions, thereby streamlining care and increasing quality;
  • Improved patient outcomes with AI-driven medical management and more effective care support workflows;
  • Improved clinician experience with more time for patients, automated workflows and physician copilots;
  • Leveraged cloud-hosting zones, offering regions for vastly improved resiliency, disaster recovery protocols and flexibility;
  • Leveraged standard, available data for advanced analytics capabilities (e.g., longitudinal data mining to help identify patient interventions, recommended pathways and Customer 360) and new care models (e.g., home health, telemedicine, precision medicine); and
  • Data-driven patient-interaction modeling to help identify and target consumers with relevant care needs.

Jumpstarting the EHR modernization journey

The healthcare industry is at a crossroads.The challenges of legacy systems are too significant to ignore, and the potential gains from transitioning to the cloud are substantial. By moving toward EHR modernization, healthcare organizations can provide better patient care, improved efficiency and a more agile healthcare ecosystem.

Healthcare companies should consider these steps in their approach to EHR modernization:

  • First, start small by moving disaster recovery or nonproduction to the cloud before considering production.
  • Second, cloud providers should increasingly add support for larger production EHR systems.
  • Third, as you move production EHR, use the opportunity to rationalize and modernize your portfolio of surround applications. Also leverage data and AI capabilities unlocked by the cloud provider.

Seventy-seven percent of health services companies will prioritize AI investments in the coming 12 months. The reasons are clear: AI can ease pain points in healthcare for patients, physicians and payers. And due to GenAI’s remarkable scalability — a single GenAI model can deliver value in multiple functions and lines of business — AI solutions are more accessible than ever.

Health services companies now prioritize AI investments, and GenAI is starting to transform digital health. From eliminating workforce gaps today to business model reinvention in the near future, GenAI may soon be everywhere in health services. In fact, health services companies that think big by deploying an AI factory and adopting an “early-days” strategy for GenAI may be able to build a lasting competitive edge.

How PwC can help

PwC’s experience with large cloud migrations and our deep cloud engineering experience can help you avoid pitfalls. With our strategic alliances, we can help you find the most effective fit for your organization.

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