In today’s connected world with internet and devices like smart-phones and tablets, e-mail and social access is a given. But, treating a sick person without his primary physician around is practically impossible today – because medical history and information about allergies are not readily accessible. Most of the patients’ medical information are in paper format under lock and key inside their physician’s office, or worse stored in an insecure isolated desktop computer.
The healthcare industry is confronted with the following challenges:
- Obamacare mandating that hospitals and physicians switch to electronic health records by 2014.
- Security breaches reported from existing healthcare systems (both electronic and physical)
- Efficiently digitizing existing physical records in film, paper or tapes.
- Achieving acceptable Electronic Medical Record (EMR) adoption levels – for example, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a Chicago-based body has defined various certification stages towards EMR adoption.
- Regulations like HIPAA mandating data capture, security and privacy models.
Healthcare – Operational Challenges:
Digitization is just the initial challenge in this transition – the real issues that healthcare organizations are grappling with are:
- How to keep the records secure
- Ensure fast and defined access to the right people
- Bring down the technology’s cost of service without compromising on quality
- Adhere to all the legislations and regulations
- Ensure that the records once stored survive accidents and are never lost
- Provide enough computing power, memory and storage to satisfy not just today’s processing needs, but for anticipated future requirements too
- Extract meaningful analysis from the available wealth of data to improve healthcare administration.
Enter the Cloud:
The cloud offers a unique way out of the technology challenges arising from the various cost, security and regulatory issues mentioned above.
A cloud based offering helps health-care providers efficiently
manage their IT investments, to support Electronic Health Record (EHR) implementations.
With elastic provisioning of computing power and storage, organizations need only pay for what they use, and expand/ shrink computing power on demand. Besides, regulations require health-records to be retained for several years (and even decades). Almost all cloud based platforms provide archiving options (cheaper compared to “always available online” storage) with various capacities. These archives could be cataloged, indexed and searched based on various parameters, and brought online for access within minutes. Hence, space and storage have ceased to be constraints for EHR implementations.
Servers and machines that make up the cloud are located in data-centers spread across different geographies and backed-up periodically. Hence, even if one data-center is unavailable because of a natural calamity, the cloud platform automatically uses servers from a different center, and/or activates data from previous back-ups.
Sharing and Collaboration:
Cloud computing makes it easier to develop Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) – groups of healthcare organizations with common standards to securely share healthcare records over a network on demand. This is possible on the cloud through a combination of id/password, Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs), security groups and encryption with shared short-lived tokens. Such technology facilities are pre-built at the highest standard in most cloud platforms, and very reasonably priced.
Big Data & Analytics:
Even a single patient’s EHRs could run into several Giga Bytes if medical histories, various treatments and other demographic data are included. Because the cloud has no practical upper limit for storage and processing power, it is uniquely positioned for analysis of this data,
and report patterns on diseases, allergies and treatments against various dimensions (like geography, age). For example, one can easily ascertain if a certain knee operation requires more recuperative time in cold climates for patients beyond a certain age based solely on the data analytics.