- Healthcare SaaS applications are becoming more common as organizations migrate parts of their infrastructure to digitize their IT environment. However, not all cloud-based infrastructure is the right fit for all applications. Organizations need to realize the benefits and drawbacks of SaaS-based options and decide if SaaS is the best fit for their cloud goals.
One of the most popular cloud options for applications is software-as-a-service (SaaS). Many organizations are looking to move their EHRs to the cloud and SaaS is the most basic way to give clinicians cloud access to application-based tools.
Moving EHRs and other application tools to the cloud can give organizations much more flexibility and create easier to access to data, especially in a mobile environment.
The main difference between SaaS and other cloud-based models is the amount of control the organization has over the applications. SaaS requires less development and hands on maintenance because it is not up to the organization to invest in staff or hardware.
SaaS is the most basic form of cloud computing, with centrally stored data accessed by users through a web browser. For example, SaaS could be web-based email or an interface reached via a web browser. SaaS solutions work well for organizations with smaller IT departments because most of the maintenance and upkeep of the solution is performed by the vendor.
SaaS tools allow software to be run on the endpoint device without any data actually being stored on the device. The data is stored off-site and users access it using the internet. SaaS deployment can be leveraged for several health IT functions, EHRs, medical practice management systems, and health information exchange (HIE), according to HealthIT.gov.
SaaS tool advantages include that the cost is more predictable than other cloud-based deployment models and they are easier to manage and monitor. Organizations can save on staff because entities don’t need dedicated on-site developers managing SaaS applications.
Entities also do not need to purchase hardware such as servers or the software required to build and support the applications. Most SaaS-based tools have a monthly subscription fee, so the costs are based on what resources are being used and can be adjusted as needed.
ONC also supports SaaS for better data exchange because data from many different organizations can be stored and processed in a more uniform way. This can potentially help with interoperability issues.
Vendors are charged with monitoring and maintaining the application, so the vendor can make upgrades without IT staff or the end user being responsible for it. This helps entities stay more secure because they don’t need to depend on end users to upgrade their tools. SaaS-based tools are always up to date with the most recent security and functionality upgrades.
SaaS applications can also be accessed from any device, especially if they are web based. Users only need a web browser and internet access to retrieve the data they need or enter in new information.
SaaS applications are also tied closely to the public cloud. The public cloud has similar advantages to SaaS applications, because it also allows organizations to be flexible and cut back on staffing and hardware expenses.
While SaaS applications and the public cloud are viable options for entities that cannot afford to deploy a private cloud on-premises, it can be difficult for organizations to predict costs, Moffit Cancer Center CTO Tom Hull told HITInfrastructure.com in a previous interview.
“The advantage of public cloud is convenience,” Hull stated. “There's also challenges with the public cloud. The number one challenge is that it's an operational expenditure. I can get capital expenditures to buy more capacity for VM cluster here or a VM cluster there. I can add more disk or flash drive, by using capital to buy them.”
“If I go to AWS or Azure software and get those on an expense basis, I've got to predict what that's going to cost every month,” he continued. “That means my operational expenditures are going to go up, and that's not good. The challenges of right sizing what we have in our private cloud and then managing that to put some in public that we'll need for use is the architectural challenge.”
SaaS applications in the public cloud can help healthcare organizations embrace the cloud more quickly than if they were trying to build applications and support and on-premises private cloud. The easy deployment process, along with the reduced on-site maintenance, makes it an attractive option for entities trying to embrace advanced technology without burning their IT budget on cloud.
However, organizations looking for better control over their applications may find that there isn’t enough development freedom with SaaS. Many organizations will use SaaS along with other cloud-based deployment to build a custom cloud environment that leverages the advantages of each deployment model.