The massive cloud migration of recent years has spread across a myriad of industries, with healthcare being one of the latest to adopt its systems and practices. The U.S. healthcare cloud market is estimated to reach about $3.5 billion by the year 2020. This integration has been shifting the landscape of patient data and may prove to play a key part in adjusting the way providers approach patient analysis and interaction in the future.
Cloud-based applications and software systems are convenient in the sense that they provide access to data that doesn’t need to be stored on-site. Since organizations have typically relegated their data storage functions to on-premises hardware, limited scope computer-based software, and of course the paper filing systems of old, a move to the cloud has numerous liberating benefits—for healthcare organizations in particular.
Healthcare providers face a constant struggle that lies in the duality of their professional and business responsibilities. With the conflicting industry directive to cut costs while simultaneously improving the quality of their care, internet-based systems have emerged as a cost-effective compromise that is multifaceted in its functionality.
Speaking to cost efficiency, cloud systems are typically more cost-effective in the long run as they operate on a “pay-as-you-go” system. This differs from a legacy setup in that hospitals can lease storage from a third-party provider, cutting down on capital expenditures associated with hardware and computer systems. Then, hospitals need only pay for what they actually use, in addition to a nominal setup or migration fee.
The recent project management boom has also encouraged the integration of administrative workloads into the cloud. Emerging cloud-based software beyond just data storage are pushing other aspects of automation including payroll services, help desk chatbots, and virtual check-ins. This speaks volumes for the application of the cloud on human capital management, and certainly helps to alleviate hospital staff, who are often mired down by basic record-keeping tasks that cut into the time they spend delivering care or solving administrative problems.
The cloud’s functionality allows hospitals to access data from sources other than their systems. This makes it possible to view and share data with other providers in ways that would not have been possible in the age of healthcare data silos, as discussed in a previous post. Also, data that is linked to multiple patients can be compared more efficiently. Engaging in these digital health information exchanges ultimately results in better patient care outcomes.
Though one of the additional benefits of migrating to the cloud is the convenient storage of patient data, safety is always a concern for organizations in possession of PHI (protected health information). Even though cloud-based systems offer more security than a hospital can provide through its own computer network, caution is still the best policy. When adopting a cloud provider, hospitals should identify the location of their servers and determine all avenues for off-site tech support as well as potential downtime. Communicating which security tasks are the provider’s responsibility versus which fall on hospital IT staff to manage will assure the relative security of any proprietary information.
Additionally, hospitals must maintain stringent compliance with HIPAA and other regulations. Hospitals and third-party vendors must sign a HIPAA business associate agreement (BAA), but in many cases, both parties might not understand what a BAA entails, as it relates to the cloud. Any changes made to the structure of the data (for example, instituting a new firewall to protect PHI) will result in a need to recertify the environment in order to keep in line with compliance. A cloud provider might not understand the exacting nature of regulatory standards, just as much as a hospital might not understand how minute changes to their cloud platform affects their compliance, so it’s key to maintain a constant flow of communication.
In short, moving patient data to the cloud will make providers more agile in responding to patient queries and concerns. It can help predict patient needs through comparison analysis, cut down on on-premise data storage and associated redundant payroll costs. Cloud migration will allow organizations to adapt for the future by modernizing their legacy systems.
As cloud systems scale, the need for standardization, especially in terms of efficiency and security, increases. As industries like healthcare continue this forward movement, emerging themes on internet storage in coming years will provide greater clarity on the regulatory standards.
Contributing Author: Maddie Davis, Cofounder/Editor, Enlightened Digital
Maddie Davis is the co-founder of Enlightened Digital and a tech-obsessed female from the Big Apple. She lives by building and redesigning websites, running marathons, and reading anything and everything on the NYT Best Sellers list.