Digital transformation initiatives continue to push the envelope and deliver immense benefits to stakeholders in the healthcare industry. Healthcare providers are using digital solutions to make better treatment decisions for improved patient outcomes, reduced operational costs, and better patient data management. Increasingly, cloud technology serves as the underlying framework that supports and enables these digital transformation initiatives.
Increased Global Spending on Cloud
The cloud is a scalable, low-cost way to develop the complex infrastructure required to support a variety of critical organizational activities, especially for providers and vendors in healthcare settings.
A BCC Research report estimates that the global healthcare industry will spend $35 billion on cloud computing by 2022. Also, a HIMSS Analytics survey revealed that 65% of respondents (healthcare organizations) currently use cloud services within their organizations, while 90% see the cloud as a way to host core clinical applications.
These statistics indicate that cloud computing is rapidly becoming a core part of the IT infrastructure in most healthcare settings, supporting the development of innovative solutions to improve healthcare delivery.
Benefits of Cloud Computing in Healthcare
Cloud computing helps healthcare organizations achieve high availability and accessibility of data by storing and protecting patient EMRs (electronic medical records) on networks of remotely accessible and secure servers. This helps improve the efficiency, safety, and quality of medical services, enables easy maintenance of patient privacy and security, and facilitates better coordination of care.
Superior data security
Previously, physicians used filing cabinets to store patient and other medical records, creating an environment where these records could be easily stolen or damaged by a malicious insider, fire, flood or other natural disasters. Such settings were fraught with security issues and represented a significant threat to the safety of patient records.
After the EMR mandate, healthcare providers began adopting IT infrastructure for on-site digital data storage; however, this came with its own set of challenges, including significant upfront investment for purchase, installation, operations, and maintenance. Organizations also had to hire trustworthy IT staff with extensive knowledge of cybersecurity practices to ensure the safety of medical records.
With the advent of cloud computing options, many healthcare organizations are outsourcing their data security needs to HIPAA-compliant cloud storage vendors. These vendors provide healthcare institutions with access to cloud data storage services that meet the data security and privacy requirements of HIPAA and other regulatory frameworks. As such, cloud computing enables healthcare providers to leverage more secure data storage options to help protect patient data and other medical records.
Reduced data storage costs
Rather than setting up and maintaining on-site data centers to store data, healthcare organizations can leverage cloud computing to store, manage, and process their data. This significantly reduces the overall cost of data storage by eliminating the costs associated with on-site servers, including purchasing data storage, servers, software licenses, and building additional IT infrastructure to keep data secure.
Cloud computing providers handle the construction, administration, and maintenance of cloud data storage allowing healthcare professionals to focus on what they do best — caring for their patients and working to achieve better health outcomes. Cloud computing solutions are more flexible compared to on-premise solutions as well, enabling healthcare organizations to easily scale their storage and computing needs as necessary, only paying for the resources they use.
Storing electronic medical records on the cloud helps to streamline the process of collaborative patient care. Previously, most patients’ medical records were distributed across the various offices of healthcare providers they visited – some with their dentists, a good number with the primary care provider, and others at the offices of healthcare specialists they consulted.
With cloud-based medical records and other healthcare applications, providers can more easily communicate and share patient medical records, particularly with EHR integration and solutions such as healthcare APIs, which support the exchange of healthcare information across any EHR platform while maintaining PHI security. These solutions make patient data readily available to providers when they need it, so they can make more informed decisions about patient care and treatment options.
Enabling big data applications
Patient EMR contains huge volumes of useful information that could help achieve better health outcomes for patient and population health initiatives by helping to: - Identify the most effective treatment options for a particular set of symptoms - Detect subtle correlations in illnesses that could reveal causative factors - Predicting when an epidemic might occur
However, the use of filing cabinets and siloed data storage mechanisms made it virtually impossible to analyze these streams of patient data to come up with such useful insights and predictions.
With the advent and widespread adoption of cloud computing and storage, healthcare organizations can now use complex computer algorithms and solutions with big data capabilities to analyze the reams of data at their disposal. This helps in the early detection of public health threats, enabling healthcare providers to come up with viable solutions to reduce population health risks.
By virtue of its almost unlimited scalability, seamless flexibility, and high availability, the cloud offers a wide range of benefits to healthcare organizations and stakeholders. The cloud facilitates health IT infrastructure from back-end development and data sharing to consumer-facing patient portals and mobile applications.
As developers work towards creating a world where electronic health records, mobile health applications, and wearable connected devices will interface freely, cloud computing will play a primary role in storing, securing, and maintaining all the underlying data. This makes the cloud essential to the future of health IT. As such, healthcare organizations are encouraged to leverage and expand their cloud capabilities to keep up with the continuously evolving healthcare landscape.