Are you are currently considering the vast array of options available when choosing an Electronic Health Records system?  If so you’ve probably seen or heard the terms “Hosted” and “SaaS” used referring to different ways of licensing EHR products.  These terms are sometimes used interchangeably and they shouldn’t be.  If you’re hearing these terms from the vendors you are speaking with you need to understand the difference.

First a quick definition.  SaaS stands for Software as a Service and it’s a way of delivering software to end-users who don’t want the bother of running and maintaining the software on their own.

SaaS software resides on servers that are operated and maintained by a vendor in a data center.  The software is shared by multiple customers and normally has limited options for customization.

A hosted EHR solution is a much different animal.  When you enter into an agreement to use a hosted solution you are asking your vendor to set up a physical infrastructure with customized services specifically for you.  The hosting may be done in a data center that is sharing space with numerous other hosted solutions but the application is being used only by you and your practice.

Allow me to try and use a short history of email as a way of further describing the differences between running client-server software, using a hosted software service, and using SaaS.

The first widely used email program for business was a client-server based application from Microsoft called Exchange.  To run  Exchange you would need to have servers running the software in your office and typically at least one person was responsible for maintaining it and being sure it was available to the desktop computers (clients) in the office.  The exchange was extremely complicated in the beginning and keeping it up and running could become a full-time job.

A few years after Exchange began to dominate the world of corporate email new companies started popping up that would host Exchange servers for you.  These “Hosted Exchange” services would provide you with your own Exchange server and you would connect to it using the Internet.  You were connecting to the exchange server in the same way you were before, but it was no longer in your office.  From an end-user perspective, there was no change.  But, for the business, there was no longer a need for the expense of owning, running, and maintaining the servers that were running Exchange.  They simply paid the Hosted Exchange company a monthly or annual fee on a per user basis.

Then along came a company with a really great Software as a Service (SaaS) option for email.  When Google first launched Gmail it was primarily a consumer product but it has improved to the point where they now offer a paid version to companies for $50 per user, per year.  If you use Gmail you’re not running it on your own Gmail server, you are sharing Google’s vast array of servers running the Gmail software with millions of other users as a true SaaS application.

I hope that example helped.  If you’re not that familiar with the history of email, and quite frankly why should you be, it may have done nothing but further muddy the waters.   If so I humbly apologize and admit to spending way too much of my life fighting with email servers.

For healthcare pros who realize that information technology may not be a core competency either hosted or SaaS EHR solutions may be viable options.   If you’re interested in learning more about whether or not a SaaS option might be work in your practice you can download the free white paper Is Software as a Service Right for My Practice.  The report is provided by our partner Software Advice and it helps to isolate the issues that are unique to using a SaaS-based EHR system.