By John DeGaspari

What criteria should a relatively small physician practice use in making a decision to move its computer operations to the cloud?

I recently had a conversation with Michael Wolff, M.D., who heads up Southwest Spine and Sports, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based practice with six physicians in three locations.

Wolff says his practice has been using a cloud service provider (ClearDATA, Tempe, Ariz.) for about two years to host his practice’s IT infrastructure. He cites cost and safety issues in making his decision. On Cost: Before moving to the cloud, Wolff says he was faced with the recurring cost of updating his servers every three or four years, and as his needs grew, so did the cost of the hardware. On safety: data no longer resides on his own servers on site, he says; he has the assurance that his practice’s data has redundancy because it is backed up off site. He adds the connectivity between the physicians’ offices has also improved.

Wolff, who also owns a billing company, says he began to consider the services of a cloud provider because he was concerned about protecting the data of his clients for that business, and for many of the same reasons.

He says he relies on the cloud service provider to host his practice’s electronic medical record, which encompasses both his electronic health record and practice management system (supplied by Vitera Healthcare Solutions, Tampa, Fla.), which are coordinated with the billing company.

Wolff acknowledges he is not a computer expert; he says he relied IT experts to help him vet cloud service providers. He then made a personal visit to the cloud service provider’s site that he eventually chose. For him, the criteria that tipped the balance in making a choice was a willingness to offer support in solving his particular IT problems, as well as experience in the healthcare space and the fact that the company was compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.

While CIOs at many healthcare organizations are divided as to what types of data should be relegated to the cloud, doing a thorough vetting of a cloud service provider, which after all, will be a partner in housing its client’s IT infrastructure and data, is a must. So is the willingness to work with customers in solving their IT issues, no matter what the size of the provider organization.

Article originally published February 25, 2013 at: