In healthcare, the future of the cloud looks very bright. The healthcare cloud computing market is set to soar; research from MarketandMarkets suggests it may grow from $3.73 billion in 2015 to $9.48 billion by the year 2020. Up to 20% of hospitals and healthcare companies may be using cloud computing by 2017.
Statistics and numbers, however, don’t tell the full picture. Just how will the cloud be used in a healthcare setting?
Storing massive amounts of data is nothing new for the cloud. In healthcare, there is an enormous amount of sensitive personalized information ranging from medical reports to billing data. It is expensive to manage storage and the server hardware and supporting elements on site. Keeping it all secure is hard on already strained budgets as well.
Aside from virtualization, organizations are increasingly relying on cloud providers for scalable storage solutions. The service grows as their data does. In many cases, this scalability is infinite. The client receives as many resources as they need and can pay for.
Any patient data gathered can potentially be uploaded to the cloud. This isn’t just information recorded during physical examinations. Devices such as blood pressure monitors and pacemakers are network-connected and can easily transmit data to centralised locations. Various analytical tools are enabling healthcare professionals to track and assess this data and the health of the patient.
There are numerous benefits to this. In addition to effectively tracking an individual’s health, one can see the broader view and look at the health of thousands of patients. Practitioners can see the frequency of specific ailments and track the spread of a disease. They can also track the effectiveness and progress of treatments to obtain data that may help better understand how to diagnose and treat certain illnesses.
Electronic Medical Records
Medical records consist of vast quantities of information. One of the biggest uses of the cloud in this industry is medical imaging, which involves storing and sharing large files. Using the cloud makes this process faster, cheaper, and more effective.
Records can also be integrated with other IT systems. Patient information can be correlated with past records and with billing and insurance information. Healthcare organizations can also maintain the security, control, and compliance of data required by the most current HIPAA regulations. Privacy violations can result in huge fines and losses that physicians, hospitals, and clinics in their best interests try to avoid.
Storing medical data in a centralised place makes encryption and other methods more effective. Cloud providers are under competitive pressure to offer the latest in security. It becomes harder to lose sensitive information or for someone to gain unauthorized access. Different protocols may be used for data transmitted between parties or those at rest - for example, cloud computing providers may sign a HIPAA business associate agreement (Amazon and Google are examples).
Some hospitals and organisations may also adopt a hybrid approach. It’s possible to outsource parts of the overall dataset to the cloud, such as how some hospitals are bringing population health information there and keeping other data assets local. Genomics is a rapidly evolving discipline but involves large quantities of data. Academic medical centres are using the cloud on this front.
Smaller medical entities may just be looking for more affordable storage. From business operations to customer service, healthcare companies of all sizes are facing the decisions of going with cloud services, traditional storage, or a hybrid model. On top of this, the availability of data management software is changing things: more and more medical businesses are choosing the cloud because of the increased control and security. While it’s expected to grow in the coming years, the cloud is already helping healthcare entities store, track, manage, and secure large repositories of sensitive personal information.