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A Practice Manager’s Guide to Cloud-based Software

Feature image for article explaining cloud-based software

What is cloud-based software?

The best way to think of cloud-based software is like a utility or service.
There’s nothing to install and no files or data reside on your computer. You simply open up your web browser (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge), login to the site of your chosen service/software provider and do what you need to do.

Your cloud software/service provider takes care of everything else like running servers, developing and delivering updates, security, backups and bug fixes. Leaving you free to concentrate on running your practice.

If you follow the “utility” analogy using cloud-based software is akin to plugging your kettle into a plug socket. When you do this electricity flows and your kettle boils. You don’t have to worry about how to generate electricity or how it gets to your house. All of the back-end hassle like buying fuel, generating power, maintaining the power station is handled by the utility company. That’s what they do, it’s their field of expertise and as a result you can be confident that when you plug in the kettle you’ll always be able to make a cup of tea!

Photo by Rumman Amin on Unsplash

How does Cloud-based software work?

Feel free to skip this section if you’re not interested in the technicalities but it does help to understand the benefits!

Back in the day, if you wanted to use some software in your practice you would typically install it, run it and store your data on the hard drive. Which was great if you liked tinkering with computers but less good if you wanted to get on and see patients.

With the cloud-based software this model is flipped on it’s head. You don’t install anything on your computer apart from a browser. Instead the application software and your data reside in a secure data centre managed by your service provider. You connect to the data centre using your browser by entering a secure URL (starting https://) given to you by your service provider when you sign up for the service, so something like: – this is just an example

When you enter the URL into your browser you are routed to the server that runs the software/service and a secure connection is created via HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol over SSL). Think of this as a secure pipe or cable directly connecting your computer to your service provider’s data centre.

In the blink of an eye this connection is made and the software that you want to use in your practice is visible in your browser. Most often you’ll start by seeing a login screen. You enter your username and password and this is encrypted and transmitted to the server where it is verified. If you entered the right details the first screen/page of the software will be sent from the server to your device with the appropriate data (appointments if it’s a diary screen, say). You might then book an appointment and this request gets sent from your browser to the server and so it goes on, back and forth between your browser and the server as you navigate around the software and perform different tasks.

If you’re really interested, keep an eye on what’s in the address bar when you’re navigating around your cloud-based software and you will see the URL changing as different pages are loaded.

Cloud computing has come of age in the last 2-3 years because broadband speeds have increased significantly and so the backing and forthing described above now happens in milliseconds rather than seconds (or minutes for those of you that remember dial-up modems). As a result the experience of using cloud-based software has become fast, responsive and very immersive.

Beware of Imitations

Photo by Cécile Brasseur on Unsplash

It’s worth pointing out that some providers don’t provide truly cloud-based services.

This is typically the case with more established providers who have a significant investment in older technology. In some, but not all, cases these providers choose to re-purpose their existing product to make it look like it is cloud-based but in reality it isn’t and moreover it doesn’t generally benefit from the architectural advantages of a true cloud-based application.

Typical giveaways of these types of applications are where you’re required to install some form of applet in your browser or on your computer. Other potential red flags are services that require you to install remote access software like Microsoft RDP.

What’s in it for you?

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Flexibility, freedom and focus.

The single biggest benefit of cloud-based software is that it gives you the flexibility to work wherever and whenever you want, provided you have access to the internet and a web browser.

Hopefully the explanation above illustrates how this is possible but to re-cap, if you don’t need to have any software installed on your computer and your data is in the cloud (i.e. a data centre), you and your team have the freedom to work wherever you can hook up to the internet. As a result there’s:

Using cloud-based software also frees you from many of the frustrations that come with packaged or installed software. Most notably:

Lastly, cloud-based software allows you to focus. I’ve done it myself wasting hours of my day trying to sort something out on my computer when all I wanted to do was crack on and get my work done for the day.

Why should I embrace cloud-based practice management software?

Obviously there are a whole host of cloud-based practice management providers and most do similar things, albeit they have different nuances, attributes and prices. The following benefits are not provider-specific and instead focus on the merits of using a cloud-based system:

Things to Consider?

Using a cloud-based system is not without its risks.

However, having read this article you should now understand a bit more about the mechanics and also see where the potential pitfalls might be.

Is Cloud-based software expensive?

Generally no. Why?

In a cloud-based service one piece of source code serves all users. As a result, the costs of running a cloud-based business (outlined below) are typically spread amongst a large number of users. Bottom line: you get access to simple, high quality software at a very reasonable price.

Below are the key cost components of a cloud-based software business, excluding things like management and marketing costs:

I mention this because it’s important to understand that when you use a cloud-based service you are obviously paying for the right to use the software (the intellectual property that has been developed by the provider) but you are also paying for a whole host of services that have recurrent costs, like air conditioning of the data centre, electricity consumption etc…

Lastly, when you’re looking at pricing be sure to understand what is and isn’t included in the price.

Do I have to change my hardware?

No. For all the reasons described above all you need is a device that will run a modern (up-to-date) browser like Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox or Microsoft Edge and an internet connection. In addition, you might want to consider also using the following add-ons:

What about Data Protection?

With the introduction of GDPR back in May 2018 your responsibilities in relation to personal data have increased notably and many would argue that this strengthens the case for using a cloud-based practice management system as many requirements are not easily achieved using paper. For example:

These are just a few examples but there are many more.

With regard to GDPR itself this is not the subject of this article and I would by hope that (by now) you are fully au-fait with your responsibilities but if you’re not the following articles might be useful:

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