The Role of Cloud in Improving Patient Care
by Dave Wilson on Feb 14, 2012
This is the first in a series of posts discussing the role that cloud technologies play in the healthcare market.
It is no secret that healthcare organizations lag behind most other industries in adopting new technologies—by some estimates by as much as 10 years. Providers must modernize their IT infrastructures and massively overhaul their paper-based workflows, all while dealing with budget cuts and government reforms. It’s no wonder that healthcare organizations are often slow to move.
Healthcare providers invest 10% of revenue into IT, compared to other industries that regularly invest 25%. To date, their IT focus has been primarily around the digitization of images with picture archive and communication systems (PACS), payment and reimbursement applications and maintaining regulatory compliance. In addition, government incentives are driving providers to look at electronic health records (EHR), health information exchanges (HIE) and business intelligence or analytics tools as a way to push the boundaries of patient care.
The reality is, these types of initiatives can mean huge upfront capital expenditures, sizable ongoing operating expenses and a huge investment in change management. This is a major challenge in an industry that is historically reluctant to change.
Enter cloud computing.
Embracing cloud technology in healthcare may be the answer to enabling healthcare organizations to focus their efforts on clinically relevant services and improved patient outcomes. At the same time, it may reduce and even remove the burden of infrastructure management. Cloud technologies can provide access to hardware, software, IT knowledge, and resources and services, all within an operating model that drives down costs and simplifies technology adoption. Suddenly, management and migration of legacy hardware fall upon the cloud provider, allowing hospitals to get back to their primary intent of business—patient care.
As with any new technology, there are concerns that are both unique to healthcare and common to all industries. Security and privacy become a regulatory compliance issue while high availability is a must for systems that deal with life and death situations. Data movement across borders and ownership of that data are also important. Reports show as many as 30% of healthcare organizations are either implementing or operating cloud-based solutions, and the result is a wealth of vendors moving their applications to cloud models. Unfortunately, these cloud technologies are mostly limited to email applications and collaboration tools like Microsoft Live Meeting, but the movement to clinical systems is starting to grow. Electronic health records, diagnostic imaging, analytics and the introduction of health information exchanges all lend themselves to be cloud-based with a clinical focus.
Over the next few months, this series will explore the different aspects of cloud adoption and how healthcare providers can move forward with a cloud-based solution.
But as the saying goes, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been…
Current State of Healthcare
The healthcare industry has traditionally underutilized technology as a means of improving the delivery of patient care. Even today, organizations still rely on antiquated paper medical records and handwritten notes to inform and make decisions. Digital information is siloed between departments and applications, making access to a patient’s longitudinal record difficult, if not impossible. This lack of access costs the healthcare industry millions of dollars each year in duplication and waste.
The sharing of patient data among clinicians, departments and even patients is rare and complex. A hospital’s reliance on vendors to “knit” together their diverse technologies leads to expensive and unproven data experiments that fail to deliver the expected outcomes. Various countries have approached this issue in different ways, from the central national clearinghouse (UK) to regional health centers (Canada) to more granular HIEs; all realize various degrees of success. Those countries that have skipped over paper records and started with diagnostic imaging seem to have had more success albeit in a limited manner, and have yet to achieve success with the larger components of the patient record.
Most provider IT departments are accustomed to traditional technologies that require licensed software platforms, elaborate and hardware-heavy infrastructures supported by a large staff. The staff members need to be experts in all areas of the IT department, including hardware, software, networking, backup and archiving. As new technologies are introduced, the demands on the IT infrastructure start to push the limits of the promised efficiencies. While ground-breaking in its concept, government incentives simply don’t cover enough of the true costs of overhauling legacy equipment and modernizing a facility.
As EHRs, PACS and advanced clinical systems are evolving and becoming more prominent, the demands on current storage resources are stretched. The implementation of a digital pathology system alone could put petabyte-level demands on the current infrastructure instantly. Implementation time of these projects are consumed with ensuring the back-end technologies are properly configured and working, often taking focus away from the clinical aspects of these applications and what users need. Reducing this implementation time is critical to a facility’s ability to adapt quickly to changing needs and the introduction of new applications.
Patients today are better advocates for their own healthcare; they are more educated on their diseases and increasingly demand access to the latest technologies. At the same time, they seek the best care at the lowest cost, and are willing to investigate their options. As a result, the demands for access to personal patient records are increasing and organizations need to keep up. When citizens can access bank accounts from anywhere in the world, withdraw money, get balances and make payments it is hard to understand why we cannot travel across town and inform a physician what medications we are taking and what diagnostic procedures we’ve had, never mind what the results were. Patients require universal access to their secure health information.
This bleak picture is not all doom and gloom, however, as many facilities have recognized these challenges and still provide top notch care. Many developed countries are establishing healthcare data clearing houses or data centers that can help make data more portable. Canada has established diagnostic imaging repositories across the country with demonstrated benefits to both patient care and cost savings. Countries everywhere continue to invest in new technology that will improve patient care.
And this is where cloud computing can help drive the industry. CDW’s study (same reference as above) showed that 37% of healthcare providers have cloud adoption in their strategic plans, 22% are in the planning stages and 25% are in the midst of implementing. Only 5% have already embraced cloud computing and have recognized an average of 20% savings on those applications implemented. The next step is to move more clinically focused applications into the cloud.
In the next blog we will discuss the healthcare drivers for organizations to adopt cloud technologies. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Comments (4 )
Would be great if you could elaborate on the topics of data protection and data privacy, when talking about cloud.
I believe there will be many concerns around the globe, that might differ in some ways from country to country and share common issues in other ways.
Would be interesting to compare those different concerns and issues.
Great overview of Cloud and health care. The value is obvious – it’s the adoption that is the problem. Why? Culture. The article states – as do Puget Sound health care thought leaders I speak with – that the industry is ten plus years behind the technology curve. The health care industry culture is hampered by legacy systems, government compliance, and bureaucratic procedures by Payers. The Provider is in the middle. Solution: Win over thought leaders with solid Cloud proof-of-concepts. Convince them with risk averse examples and clear ROI. Hitachi can show how their storage solution for medical images (PACS) can be a Big Data solution. The national HIMSS conference has at least five session white papers on Cloud: http://www.freeman-cloud.com/himss2012/
[...] This is part 2 in a series of posts on the role of cloud in improving patient care. Part 1 can be found here. [...]
[...] upon the cloud provider instead of an organization’s infrastructure. The result, according to Dave Wilson, allows “hospitals to get back to their primary intent of business – patient care.” This [...]