Making the cloud work for healthcare
Cloud computing offers incredible opportunities to improve healthcare, reduce costs and accelerate ability to adopt new IT services.
T By Geoff Webb, Credant Technologies
he healthcare industry is looking to technology to improve patient care and effi ciency. So it’s no surprise that many healthcare organizations have been looking closely at the advent of per- haps the biggest upheaval in information technology since the invention of the Internet itself: cloud computing. Cloud computing offers incredible opportunities to improve healthcare, reduce costs and accelerate the abil- ity of the healthcare industry to adopt new IT services. So if the benefi ts are so compelling, why do many in the industry still question whether the move to cloud comput- ing is the right one?
Cloud computing, as a broad term, refers to a whole range of IT services, usually delivered over the Internet. These services can generally be broken down into three types (although grey areas still exist). First, there is “software as a service” (SaaS). This is probably the model most people are familiar with: Soft- ware applications are accessed through the Internet, often directly through a browser. “Platform as a service,” aimed at developers, provides an environment and tools, again accessed over the Internet, with which to build custom applications. Finally, “infrastructure as a service” presents users with the ability to host computing services (or store data) of their own on a remote site.
Healthcare organizations are already looking at and using SaaS applications, and this is probably the area where you will see rapid growth in cloud adoption driven centrally. This could include everything from a HIPAA-compliant hosted exchange to cloud-based billing and patient-man- agement applications. At the other end of the scale, consumer-focused fi le storage and sharing services, such as Dropbox and Box.net, are making rapid inroads in healthcare organizations, driven by a bottom-up need to quickly share and collaborate in an informal way.
What all the models have in common is that they utilize a third-party’s resources, accessed over the Internet, and
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delivered on a pay-as-you-go model that is both highly scalable (meaning that when you need more, it’s available) and often shared with other customers.
What’s clear is that the potential for cloud computing to revolutionize information-technology use is immense. Instead of having to plan months in advance to deploy a new patient billing system, the same application could be available instantly, on demand, with little or no up-front costs.
No longer restricted by the capacity of centrally man- aged IT departments and shackled to long lead times for deployments, the cloud has the poten- tial to accelerate the
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healthcare industry’s ability to deploy systems, adapt to new opportunities and streamline costs. Yet, with all these benefi ts, cloud adoption is far from proceeding at breakneck speed. While the cloud delivers a lot of potential benefi ts, a healthy dose of caution is also in order. Any industry that relies on handling highly sensitive information needs to think very carefully before adopting cloud services.
The reason is simply that most of the benefi ts of the cloud are possible because the data-processing services are provided on someone else’s systems. And those systems can be provided cheaply, usually because they are shared among many other customers. For the healthcare indus- try, it’s not hard to see why this could be a problem. A single breach at a cloud service hosting medical records could trigger a wave of HIPAA/HITECH-related breach notifi cations that could be incredibly expensive and affect many organizations.
Ensuring that the data housed in cloud services is secure and protected is the single biggest barrier to widespread cloud adoption in the healthcare industry, as it is in many other privacy-conscious industries. Compounding the problem is that while the service providers will do their best to keep information safe, the processes and systems
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