- Raffi Bilek
Google Workspace as an EHR
Updated: Jul 20, 2022
What is this site about?
Some years ago when I launched my private practice, all I used were my regular email and some word documents. I quickly realized that this was not a really great setup, and I already had a website, so I moved to Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) to get a professional e-mail and started storing my documents in there.
Well, I’ve improved on the system many times over since then, but it’s really the same core at the heart of my practice, using the tools I know and love – Gmail, Microsoft word, and other tools and services that are familiar, ubiquitous, and very affordable if not altogether free.
I did look at other EHRs over time like SimplePractice and TherapyNotes, among others, but I’ve never been convinced that they’re worth the price over what I’ve got. Over time I’ll share some posts here about the ways you can use Google Workspace as an electronic health record system, what it can and can’t do, and what hacks you need to know to make the most of it.
So Why Google Workspace?
Well, here’s the deal. I’m cheap. Or thrifty, however you want to spin that. I hate paying for things I don’t need to pay for, or for inefficient systems that charge for things I can do myself.
For $6 a month, you can have a fully functional, HIPAA-compliant system that covers what you need to run a private practice. (Note: I’ll be speaking mainly to mental health practitioners, because that’s what I do, but I imagine most if not all of this will apply to medical professionals of any stripe.) This includes email, record keeping, telehealth, calendars, and a lot more. We’ll be digging into all this over time, so watch this space!
Even if you do need other services or features, the next level up is $12 a month. Encryption will cost you $6 a month. None of this is prohibitive. You can buy a lot of bells and whistles before you start to approach the cost of other EHR options.
So it’s definitely cost-effective. But that’s not all (oh no, that is not all)!
Google Workspace is HIPAA-compliant
I’m a bit of a HIPAA nerd, so I have a fairly good idea what I’m talking about. I’ll share more important HIPAA info on this blog, but I want to start with this vital point:
Do not take legal advice from a social worker.
I do know what I’m talking about, but I am not a lawyer, and nothing on this website should be considered legal advice. You have to talk to your own attorney if you want to be sure that what you’re doing is sensible, and above all, legal. Laws change; different states have different laws that may affect what you can and can’t do. So please be prudent in making any decisions that affect your practice.
Okay, back to Google: you can use Google Workspace and be HIPAA-compliant. (Note that in fact, no tool or service is “compliant” – people are compliant. A service can be “HIPAA-secure” so that you can be HIPAA-compliant, and Google Workspace is. So that’s what I really mean here.) Google will sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with you, without which you are not HIPAA-compliant. That’s good. (You have to have paid Google Workspace for that; free Gmail doesn’t do the trick.)
Not all elements of Google Workspace are covered by the BAA (most notably Contacts), but pretty much everything you need and more is covered. You still need to know how to use the tools correctly if you don’t want to run afoul of HIPAA, but Google is darn secure, and that’s an important feature if you’re going to use it for your Protected Health Information (PHI).
Google Workspace is Familiar
This is one of the things I really liked about making Google my work system. I know Google! I love Google! (Even though I have misgivings about them taking over the world, they really do help me an awful lot.) I was using Gmail and Drive before I had my private practice. I think most people are familiar with the interface (perhaps because Google basically set the standards for a lot of other platforms). So it’s really easy to get into and use. Little or no training is needed. You can get yourself, and possibly your team, up and running in short order.
Google Workspace is comprehensive
You really have everything you need here. Email, calendar, video platform, even a business phone line (note that that costs extra) – there's a lot here. (To my knowledge the other EHRs don’t provide email or phone service anyway.)
The main exceptions to this are if you use your current EHR to do insurance billing, and payment processing. Google doesn’t do insurance billing that (yet?), although if you hire a biller and ditch the expensive EHR subscription fees, you are guaranteed to come out with more profit!
Payment processing also can’t be done through Google (although it’s so easy to set up PayPal that to me that hardly matters). Also, as I’ll discuss later on, there really are some good, cheaper credit card processing options out there (yay cheap!), some of which can also do a lot of the setup for you.
So although in all fairness you don’t have 100% of what you need through Google, you have a lot, and filling in the blanks is not so hard. (You can hire me to do that for you though, or check out the instructional videos.)
There are also handy add-ons like Greminders, LuxSci and Form Publisher that provide other handy features, and we’ll talk about those over time as well.
Keep an eye on this blog for more helpful tips and ideas!