The Compelling Benefits of Cloud Computing in Healthcare (and How to Make the Most of it)

The amount of healthcare data that is being generated, stored and shared is ever increasing. The widespread digitization of healthcare records has resulted in the movement of healthcare data from the conventional paper based systems onto digital platforms. With the overabundance of data and growing challenges associated with it, the healthcare industry is rapidly realizing the potential of cloud computing and the benefits it offers.

According to a report, the global healthcare cloud computing market is projected to reach USD 51.9 billion by 2024, from an estimated USD 23.4 billion in 2019 at a CAGR of 17.2% during the forecast period. According to healthcare technology trends, this growth in adoption of cloud technology is fuelled by increasing demand for remote accessibility to data, increased patient awareness, easier access to advancements in technology and increasing adoption of IT in healthcare.

Why are the healthcare organizations opting to move to the cloud?

The biggest advantage that cloud computing brings to healthcare is the ease of data accessibility. Cloud hosting of healthcare data is beneficial for a number of stakeholders including the healthcare organizations, the practitioners, and the patients themselves.

For the healthcare organizations cloud computing essentially provides better level of service than their internal IT efforts at lower costs. For practitioners, the remote data accessibility that cloud offers makes healthcare delivery much more efficient. For the patients, storing patient data on the cloud gives them the flexibility to attain the optimum level of care and improving the overall outcomes.

While it’s clearly established that cloud computing is being increasingly adopted in healthcare industry, let’s take a look at how it will benefit the patients as well as the healthcare providers.

Key Benefits of Cloud Computing in Healthcare

1. Financial Advantages

1. Lesser capital investments: Shifting to cloud platforms is instrumental for avoiding heavy capital infrastructure and allows for more flexibility in spending. Setting up a cloud network does not require upfront capital investment into infrastructure as the IT systems can be acquired on the basis of need when required.

2. Cost flexibility: Cloud computing includes the cost of staff resources required to deploy and maintain IT resources, thus negating the recruitment and training of skilled IT personnel. Additionally the cloud infrastructure is set up and maintained externally by the cloud providers. Healthcare organizations do not have to acquire the necessary hardware, software and personnel. They only need to pay for the services actually availed by them making it relatively cheaper.

2. Operational Advantages

1. Remote accessibility: The biggest advantage of storing data on cloud is the ability to access and retrieve the relevant data from any location. Healthcare experts can review the data even from remote locations using secure access logging making healthcare more accessible to the population. With the recent surge in building telemedicine platforms and the push towards telehealth, cloud computing in healthcare has become an indispensable component today.   

2. Scalability: The cloud services have the inherent ability to adjust to fluctuations in demand. In case of a rapid increase in demand, the servers offer scalability and can accommodate rapid rise in demand that may arise due to situations like a disaster or an epidemic.

3. Enhanced security: Cloud hosting is a great way of protecting sensitive medical data. Sophisticated security measures such as data encryption, filtering of access and secure access login can easily be implemented by custom healthcare software development companies and service providers into the data cloud making it more secure than the conventional data storage techniques. Cloud security is a right approach to ensure that the sensitive data like those contained in electronic medical records can be safely stored out of reach of malicious sources. 

3. Functional Advantages

1. Interoperability: The cloud systems can easily be connected to other systems and applications via the internet, making interoperability and integration easy. Cloud computing in healthcare makes it possible for distinct entities to work collaboratively with each other resulting in improved patient outcomes. These include healthcare practitioners, different departments within the organization as well as stakeholders such as pharmacy, insurance etc. It also makes sharing of vital information possible in a secure manner while complying with the data security regulations.

2. Analytics: Application of analytics on the vast amount of data stored in the cloud is vital for retrieval of clinically relevant health information. This is important for creating patient specific treatment plans for better health outcomes as well as for gaining population health trends and insights. Cloud and big data services can be employed for tracking of infectious diseases, mapping them geospatially and informing the population about the existing risks.

3. Technological advances: Data forms the basis of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Cloud computing in healthcare allows the healthcare data to be processed and analysed giving a tremendous push to the research efforts in healthcare. Cloud computing can support the digital transformation of the healthcare organizations and help them make a transition towards a more connected and smarter future by managing massive amounts of data.

RELATED: Read our detailed guide on Artificial Intelligence in healthcare.

Important Considerations for Selecting the Cloud Service Provider

Successfully setting up a healthcare IT infrastructure is a challenge. Before leveraging cloud technology in the field of healthcare, it has to be ensured that the service provider is able to overcome the set of challenges that could affect widespread adoption of cloud computing in healthcare. Here are a list of factors you need to consider before moving to the cloud and hosting your organization’s healthcare data there. 

1. Type of Cloud: There are a host of cloud service providers you can choose from but what type of cloud would be best suited for your organization- public, private or hybrid? Public clouds are undeniably more cost effective but the security of data can be called to question. Private cloud on the other hand are very secure but they tend to cost a lot more too. Hybrid clouds offer the best of both worlds by giving a secure cloud environment at an affordable rate with a number of touch points between the two environments. The hybrid platform equips the users with the freedom to decide which apps and resources need to be kept exclusively in the data centre and which to place within the cloud.

2. Privacy and Security: Healthcare data is extremely sensitive and is highly susceptible to data theft. This makes ensuring privacy and security of data a really big challenge. Healthcare companies need to establish strong agreement with the cloud service providers with special provisions for privacy and security of data. The risks and liabilities in regards to patient health information must be fully understood and healthcare providers should always stay informed about the manner in which PHI is stored and managed. Use of third party authentication is highly recommended for accessing the medical data stored on cloud.

Related: The Ultimate 9 Step Strategy For Building Cloud Applications

3. Regulations and Compliance: Patient health information collection and storage is subject to a number of governmental regulations like HIPAA (health insurance portability and accountability act) and GDPR (general data protection regulations). Compliance to these regulations is mandatory when storing data on the cloud platform. While selecting the cloud service provider, it is necessary to ensure that the data regulations by the government agencies are adhered to. The cloud service providers may have certifications from regulatory authorities but the responsibility of ensuring compliance remains with the healthcare providers. Signing of BAA (Business Associate Agreement) and SLA (Service Level Agreement) should be done with the cloud service providers before finalizing the cloud platform. Compliance to Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) as well as Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) criteria is also something that needs to be considered before moving to the cloud.

4. Service Reliability and Management: The cloud service providers need to able to upgrade the system as and when the need arises. Scaling is another critical factor while selecting the service provider. The platform chosen should be able to process unexpectedly huge loads of data at any given time. The key performance indicators of performance and reliability need to be constantly monitored.

5. Integration and Interoperability: The cloud platform should be an end to end system that fully integrates all patient data which also includes data from the connected medical devices. Standardization of data and integration of the cloud systems across the existing health IT systems is necessary to ensure maximum interoperability.

Vinati Kamani

Dr Vinati Kamani writes about emerging technology and its application across industries for Arkenea. She is an avid reader and self proclaimed bibliophile. When Vinati is not at her desk penning down articles or reading up on the recent trends, she can be found travelling to remote places and soaking up different cultural experiences.