Cloud Computing in Healthcare

What Is Cloud Computing?
In many IT circles, the internet is quite often referred to as The Cloud. The idea of multiple computers working together is depicted as a cloud for clarity. This symbol was first used to explain how the telephone system worked, and since the turn of the century, has become synonymous with computer networks. The uses and benefits of the cloud are still in its infant stages, as the technology is still evolving and expanding every day. Click to read more on cloud computing.

How Can Cloud Computing be Used in Healthcare?
Keeping accurate medical records is vital, not only to the patients, but also for the advancement of medical science. Since the beginning of time scientists and physicists have kept careful records so that subsequent generations could learn from their discoveries and continue medical progress.

As medicine advanced, and more patients sought the help of doctors, rather than using old home remedies, more records needed to be kept. As the population grew, physical space for all of these records grew shorter and shorter. Not to mention, these records were vulnerable to fires and other natural disasters. Millions of records have been destroyed throughout the ages.

When the computer hit the scene, these records began to be stored electronically. Manually entering patient records was time consuming and many errors were made, but most of the bugs have been worked out, and most records, including prescription information, is now stored on computers.

However, physical backups of all of this data once again is presenting a space issue. External hard drive backups have to be stored in fire and disaster-proof safes. This method also makes sharing files with other healthcare providers a bit difficult. Enter the cloud!

It only stands to reason that companies want to automate and accelerate access to these records by making them available “in the cloud” to various doctors, and institutions.

What’s the Hold Up?

Hospitals and other healthcare institutions what to implement the latest cloud technologies in order to communicate with other doctors, coordinate treatment schedules and various other administrative processes, such as billing. By operating in the cloud, all of this collaboration would save time and avoid duplication and errors.

Unfortunately, adopting this system and installing advanced IT solutions means high equipment costs, new servers, more storage costs and additional applications. On top of that, there are high maintenance costs involved in keeping these systems running smoothly and up-to-date. Hospital administrators and board members would rather use their limited financial budgets to purchase new medical equipment, and hire additional nurses, doctors and specialists. Smaller clinics and private practice doctors find the cost of technology too high to even consider it as an option.

Microsoft and Google, as major players in the cloud, have extended their offerings to include medical records.

  • HealthVault from Microsoft.
  • Google Health.

The programs are still in the beta stage, being tested by huge healthcare providers:

  • Microsoft being tested by Kaiser Permanente.
  • Google with The Cleveland Clinic.

Google and Microsoft are prominent examples, but they aren’t the only companies offering to store private medical records on cloud storage systems. This expected explosion of information will be securely stored in giant data centers around the world. The goal is to provide access to medical records to patients, insurance companies, doctors, institutions and pharmacies, no matter where a patient chooses to seek treatment.

How Cloud Computing Will Affect Your Practice

For sole, small and medium sized practices, converting to the cloud represents some serious dilemmas:

  • Do you invest in the new technology up front?
  • Do you build up a local infrastructure to keep data local?
  • Do you amortize the investment by utilizing monthly payments?
  • Should you store everything in the cloud?

Each choice presents additional challenges:

  • How does a company handle backups?
  • What about disaster recovery?
  • What about uptime?
  • What about a hybrid solution that offers local and cloud storage, and backups?

The options require careful consideration. What may be the right answer for one practitioner, may not be the right solution for someone else. What about cost? A solo doctor doesn’t have the same resources as a larger practice.

Each practice is encouraged to use the SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) method of analysis to make an informed decision. This approach will help define the unique infrastructure that is best suited to individual needs.

According to CCHIT (Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology), there are already more than 300 companies currently offering some form of electronic storage for medical records. Some of these are local, some in the cloud and some offer a combination of both.

As part of the SWOT analysis, practitioners must first determine whether the practice will use local, cloud or hybrid storage solutions. They will then be able procure the best IT infrastructure to meet software, hardware, and network solutions for their needs.

Proper implementation and usage of information technology offers practices enormous benefits. Better access to other healthcare professionals and advanced information will result in improved treatments, fewer errors, and cost savings for both the practitioner and the patient.

In the end, cloud computing in healthcare equals a win-win situation for everyone.

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