Hyndman Area Health Center – a holistic Pennsylvania-based health center providing family medicine, dental health, behavioral health and more – transitioned from client-hosted servers to eClinicalWorks cloud-based servers to expand its network capacity and meet a rising data demand.
Since then, it has experienced a more than 150% increase in patients and has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past few years since it no longer relies on physical servers.
Healthcare IT News sat down with Bill Kurtycz, CEO of Hyndman Area Health Center, to discuss cloud technology, cloud EHRs and telehealth, and how the technologies have benefitted the provider organization.
Q. Hyndman Area Health Center delivers, among other things, family medicine, dental health, pediatrics and women’s health. Please talk about the problems you faced before telehealth and how telemedicine helped overcome them.
A. Like many healthcare practices, we turned to telehealth during the pandemic. With so much uncertainty, one thing remained consistent – our patients needed care. But we didn’t know how we were going to triage new patients, if they were going to come into our facilities, or how we were going to track patients with existing medical conditions.
Many practices in our area shut their doors and stopped providing care to our community. So we felt even more compelled to find a solution and provide care, even if it couldn’t be in person at our facilities.
Our electronic health record vendor, eClinicalWorks, introduced us to a telehealth service we didn’t realize we could access. This feature integrated with our existing IT infrastructure – including EHR, scheduling and more – making it an easy addition to our workflow.
We started by offering telehealth for our primary care services. We found that our patients adapted to the new format and appreciated the option to receive care from their homes. We then added telehealth for medicated assisted treatment patients and virtual counseling.
Additionally, as a health center, we care for many patients with social determinants of health. Telehealth minimizes our patients’ challenges, such as transportation, allowing us to provide more equitable care to our community.
We continue to use telehealth in our day-to-day operations. Once the pandemic slowed and we opened up our physical office, providers still had the freedom to take certain appointments from home. For example, if a provider had COVID-19 but mild symptoms, they couldn’t come into the office but may still be well enough to work.
With telehealth, this provider could meet with patients via telehealth, reducing the need to reschedule appointments or offload patients to another provider. We’ve seen the benefits of telehealth for both our patients and our providers, so we’re trying to bring more awareness to this option and grow the telehealth population.
Q. You’re using the eClinicalWorks Cloud EHR – powered by Microsoft Azure, which eClinicalWorks recently made a $100 million investment in – to help streamline operations and provide quality care to patients. How does your work with an EHR vendor enable this?
A. During COVID, our patient population grew by more than 400%. We noticed our IT capabilities were slowing down, because our on-premise servers couldn’t handle the massive amount of data.
We were using three servers at the time, and needed to triple that just to handle the current workload. This would’ve cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars over a few years – which wasn’t sustainable from a business or financial perspective. We needed a solution that would help us scale, without having to add a costly server every time we had an influx of patients.
We completed a financial analysis on the five-year projected costs of continuing in-house servers compared to moving to the cloud. The ROI favored moving to the cloud. Our EHR vendor started this process by running optimizations on our current infrastructure and determined that their cloud solution would meet our current practice needs and prepare us for future growth.
They conducted a SWOT analysis to find our pain points and areas for optimization. As a federally qualified health center (FQHC), we have limited funds, and we had thin margins for infrastructure upgrades.
Our vendor works with a lot of FQHCs and understood our situation. They offered a plan that addressed our main pain points and put us on track to maximize our ROI while improving provider satisfaction and clinical care.
We couldn’t have made this transition without our trusted EHR vendor. With a dedicated team, they identify problem areas and offer reasonable solutions. Also, our vendor handles our IT needs and services, another task we can now offload from our internal teams.
By partnering with our EHR vendor to transition to the cloud, our providers and staff can focus on what matters most – caring for our patients. We can sleep a little better at night, not having to worry about disaster management, HVAC or security – issues related to physical servers that disappear once you move to the cloud.
Q. How have you gained efficiencies and improved care?
A. What we learned from this process is the importance of working with your vendor to perform analyses and identify optimizations. If we hadn’t asked our EHR vendor for help, we would’ve poured all of our money into servers instead of investing in a long-term plan that would serve both patients and providers.
By working with the vendor, we now have the tools and resources we need to provide the best care to our community.
Our IT infrastructure is more efficient than ever. With the cloud, we’ve cut our IT bill in half and our organization is experiencing faster, more secure data transfer and storage. The cloud provides real-time zonal and regional redundancy, so our practice and patient data remain accessible and secure no matter what.
Before going through the transition process, we worried about losing control of patient data in the cloud. But we’ve learned that’s not the case. The cloud keeps all our data safe, no matter the circumstances. If one server goes down, there’s another one available to house our data.
Between faster network speeds, increased security and the flexibility to grow as our practice grows, we now feel more confident in our ability to provide care for our patients. Our providers also report greater satisfaction, as they now spend less time waiting on data or network connections.
These efficiencies also translate to improved care. Patients experience a more streamlined care experience now that we manage our data in the cloud. Their providers can access all their data using search and data-analysis tools from our EHR vendor for more accurate care. We’d recommend any practice struggling to meet demand or looking to scale to explore the cloud. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made for our practice.