Aditi Roy Ghatak discusses the primary issues that complicate cloud technology use in the healthcare industry and the compelling reasons to overcome these obstacles.
Although cloud computing has been the buzz-word among the trending technologies for quite some time now, the healthcare industry is still in its early stages to embrace cloud computing. This slow adoption rate can be attributed to concerns about safeguarding confidential patient information and compliance with regulations such as HIPAA. A common fact that cannot be ignored is that many healthcare IT departments are simply burdened with outdated legacy systems and the prospect of supporting yet another standard seems to be a tedious task.
Similar to any other industry, hospitals have substantial investments in infrastructure and proprietary systems. Moving or integrating these systems into a cloud infrastructure-as-a-service environment may have varied imminent challenges. Some hospitals may serve as a hub which connects multiple physicians, labs, pharmacists, and others. Hence, interoperability and interconnectivity requirements could thwart the transition to the cloud for healthcare institutions.
Below are some challenges healthcare practitioners must keep in mind when integrating with cloud-based solutions:
- Outsource by parts. Healthcare differs from a lot of other verticals because it is very hard to outsource and the systems are incredibly diverse. The cloud allows healthcare providers to outsource parts of their IT services, and this option has opened up a lot of doors. By moving some IT functions out of the local data center at healthcare institutions, providers can focus on their core competency-providing medical care.
- Reliability and security must be top priorities in the planning and selection of cloud services for the healthcare industry. FDA certification is another barrier to bringing full-scale cloud services to the medical industry. Currently, medical devices must be certified but the method of storing data is not specifically regulated. Cloud services can be reliable and secure, but healthcare IT departments must add another layer of planning when deploying medical devices to ensure a cloud solution will meet all HIPAA and other regulations.
- Internet connection. A highly significant and basic requirement for a cloud-based healthcare offering is a reliable wireless Internet connection. Hospitals and physicians offices use varied type of Internet connections. Some rural offices still use modems to connect. For an effective cloud solution to function, the healthcare organization must have an IT support and a seamless, wireless Internet connection.
- Data format flexibility. In order to benefit from the numerous opportunities and applications available, organizations need to be flexible. That means being able to accept data ‘as-is', handle any data format from HL7 to XML and map information on-the-fly. The more efficiently you can send and receive data - from SSL to HTTPS - the more likely you'll be able to create a robust, secure method of exchanging, analyzing and presenting data.
Cloud computing can help healthcare organizations share information stored across disparate information systems in real time and can free up IT staff to attend to more critical tasks thereby increasing productivity and cost-efficiency. Storing healthcare data in one central location, online, is a more efficient practice for healthcare providers.
Using cloud services to store medical device data may be where Web-based capabilities can have the largest effect in the medical industry. When patient data are stored in the cloud, healthcare providers can access that data anytime and anywhere through a secure online portal. In the future, cloud technology could allow patients to see a new doctor who could access all of their data and patient history immediately.
Another remarkable benefit of the cloud adoption is the ability to take advantage of a new generation of innovative applications. The cloud levels the playing field for healthcare start-ups and entrepreneurs, who previously could not enter the market due to challenges posed by the high barriers of entry, adhering to industry specific protocols.
With more timely and relevant data, the healthcare industry would see marked improvement in patient care. The cloud is the key to meaningful information, placed more easily in the hands of healthcare professionals. The results can mean more productive office visits, better diagnosis of ailments based on trend data, and a faster response to catastrophic patient events.
Cloud computing is in the early adoption state in the healthcare industry, but technologies are available and ready to be deployed. The need to reduce costs in the healthcare industry ecosystem is a key factor for the adoption of cloud computing. In making future IT investment decisions, health organizations will take an account of savings and ROI (return on investment) calculations to optimize current and future spending. Hence, by implementing cloud technologies on a case-by-case-basis, the healthcare industry can certainly reap the benefits.