- Cloud computing has much offer the healthcare industry, especially given the industry’s growing dependence on computer systems and connectivity. Risks associated with cloud technology contribute to skepticism among healthcare professionals when considering health IT infrastructure upgrades. Considering different kinds of cloud technology, what they offer, and understanding the risks involved is critical in order to weigh the benefits against the risks.
Cloud computing is projected to become the standard infrastructure the healthcare industry will rely on for its primary IT functions in the coming years. The general adoption of electronic health records (EHR) across the industry — in addition to other electronic services (e.g., patient portals, public health reporting) — indicate that digital storage, filing, and access is becoming the standard medium as far as healthcare records are concerned.
Cloud computing suits the fast-paced environment already characteristic of most healthcare settings. In the event of an emergency, quickly retrieving the most accurate and up-to-date patient information cuts down on treatment time and will potentially save lives. Sharing data across organizations becomes less cumbersome, improving patient services and collaboration between healthcare organizations and professionals.
Along with efficiency and accurate information, the Cloud Council has outlined a broad range of benefits offered by cloud computing:
Clinical research: Sharing data collected on patients with pharmacology vendors helps improve research and drug development. The size of all this data is likely too massive to be stored in an on-premise server simply because of the cost. With cloud computing, that cost is lowered significantly, effectively lowering the cost of new drug development as well as potentially lowering the price of the drug for consumers.
Collaboration solutions: Patients visiting specialists for medical conditions have an easier time communicating with their primary care doctor when records can be freely shared between them. Remote video conferencing helps patients in rural or remote areas as well as disaster relief collaboration.
Telemedicine: The mobility enabled by cloud computing benefits video conferencing and teleconsultations as well as home monitoring via patient wearables.
Big data storage: Stored healthcare data consumes tremendous space and is costly to keep locally. Large files like x-rays and imaging data can be transported and shared within an organization and between organizations much faster with cloud storage.
Healthcare analytics: Analyzing population data, demographics, and treatment data ensures the most current information is available for use in support of clinical decision-making and improved patient outcomes. The ability to analyze massive amounts of data collected daily by healthcare organizations can assist in care delivery and medical research.
Security can still be a concern for new or potential adopters of the healthcare cloud. Recognizing that cloud data is secured differently than local server data needs to be understood. Layers of security can be added to ensure cloud data is not vulnerable to hacks. No data is ever completely secure, but cloud computing is no more or less safe than traditional on-premise storage.
Healthcare organizations adhere to strict budgets and on-premise servers have a finite amount of space, which makes scalability an issue. Scaling up a cloud solution is much more affordable than investing in new hardware when storage space runs out. On-premise servers also need to be housed within a facility, taking up much needed space. What’s more, housing servers on-premise requires a cooled environment along with dedicated IT staff committed to running them.
Cloud computing functions differently from local storage. On-premise servers have only one purpose which is to store data. Cloud computing enables other technological advancements to be absorbed into a health IT infrastructure. Remote file sharing, Wi-Fi enabled devices, and custom applications are just some of the layers cloud computing enables. The most important part of health IT infrastructure is all the components (e.g., wireless network, applications, storage) working together and providing a solid foundation for all other healthcare technology to function.