Cloud’s Role in Transforming Healthcare: The Next Penicillin or the Next Ebola

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Cloud computing has established its position as a critical technology in the healthcare industry segment. People expect quality, affordable healthcare from providers. Those providers are constantly pursuing solutions to reduce operational expense while infrastructure, administrative, and pharmaceutical costs are rising. Governments are imposing more stringent requirements to improve healthcare quality and provide common standards in the industry.

Trends in healthcare put pressure on healthcare professionals to adapt to changing market trends and customer requirements rapidly. Patients are becoming more involved in their healthcare requirements, as they access the Internet for possible diagnosis and treatments. The Internet is a two-edged sword: it can aid a patient in asking better questions while providing much misinformation. Telehealth aids healthcare professionals in working with patients for whom in-person doctor visits are difficult or to facilitate better quality of living at home instead of hospitals while they recover. Wearable medical devices are popularized by consumers and the data useful to providers, but compatibility issues may exist between popular brands and hospital systems, thereby preventing effective utilization of healthcare cloud systems.

Enter Cloud-based Computing

In a traditional IT environment, healthcare providers would be responsible for establishing and maintaining the IT infrastructure that supports all the business and medical processes used in the facility. Providers would need to hire appropriately skilled IT professionals to manage the infrastructure and applications. As healthcare evolved, particularly with the assistance of technology advances, the burden on the IT department grew. The costs associated with IT drive up total healthcare costs and reduce the money available to maintain a quality healthcare staff. Cloud computing is driven by the objectives of impacting total IT costs and moving IT responsibility away from the healthcare provider so they can focus on their primary purpose – providing quality healthcare.

Cloud computing is categorized into at least three different types – Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). SaaS is the most popular choice with 67% healthcare organizations running a SaaS application. 15.9% of these organizations are utilizing IaaS solutions and 2.4% are using PaaS services. 83% of all IT healthcare organizations are currently using cloud services with another 9.3% planning to adopt some healthcare cloud solution in the future. Current healthcare users cite augmentation of current capabilities or capacity, contributing to overall financial costs and time to deploy as major reasons for adopting healthcare cloud services.

Benefits of Cloud Computing in Healthcare

Administrative functions have the greater demand on cloud-based applications to support financial, operational, personnel and back office processes. The utility-based measuring of cloud services allows healthcare organizations to only pay for what they use, rather than the entire infrastructure. Because the applications are in the cloud, they can be easily accessed by any person in the organization with a simple authentication process; thus reducing the total deployment time required for new application rollouts.

Healthcare generates massive amounts of data pertaining to patient history and care, as well as provider metrics and compliance. To meet the demands on data, IT healthcare organizations are seeking storage capabilities outside the internal infrastructure because they do not have the space, finances or expertise to maintain storage onsite. Cloud storage is a popular means of addressing this demand, as well as being a solution for offsite backups and data recovery. The cloud provides additional capacity at a reduced cost which can be obtained within a few minutes, rather than weeks. Many IT departments are expanding cloud services beyond data storage to include application hosting of clinical applications.

The current philosophy is to have patient history follow them as they seek care from multiple providers within a facility and across multiple, geographically disparate facilities. To meet this criteria, interoperability is a growing concern and the subject of a few regulations. Cloud applications and management provide the vehicle to ensure common standards for data management and communications between facilities. In this respect, the cloud acts as middleware between disparate systems, often with a simple Application Programming Interface (API).

Cloud solutions can provide the same level of service as internal IT organizations. The primary difference is cost. An internal organization will drive costs up as they acquire and maintain the necessary hardware, software and personnel to support healthcare whether these resources are used at full capacity or not. Using cloud services, the hardware, software and personnel are shared and healthcare providers only pay for what they use.

Final Thoughts

Information security is a major concern in the healthcare industry to begin with because of the confidential nature of patient records and HIPAA requirements. To meet the growing demand of IT security themselves, healthcare organizations must acquire the infrastructure and personnel to adequately secure an environment while also sharing pertinent information. Cloud infrastructures are designed to be highly secure and to help organizations meet HIPAA compliance requirements. 29% of healthcare providers adopting cloud services cite improved security as a reason for adoption.

Any new adventure will include a few missteps as healthcare and cloud service providers learn to deploy healthcare-based solutions to the marketplace, but with time and experience, these missteps will be few and far between. For those 8% of healthcare providers who are not currently using or planning to use cloud services, their concerns relate to security, availability and uptime, and unwillingness to enter into a business agreement with a third party.

Healthcare hosting and compliance can be complicated. HOSTING stands ready to help. Download our white paper,HIPAA Compliance: What Every CEO Should Know, to gain a solid knowledge foundation. And contact the HOSTING team of information security and compliance experts to learn how your organization can benefit from the HOSTING Healthcare Cloud.

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