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Cloud computing: Improving healthcare services

Cloud computing: Improving healthcare services

For all the innovations transforming the healthcare industry, one area where it remains almost universally behind the times is in the use of information technology. Many healthcare systems are built on analogue workflows that consist of paper-based medical records, handwritten notes, duplicated test results, non-digitised images and fragmented IT systems. As a result, information remains siloed, which leads to inefficient provision of patient care.

Even some of the best equipped hospitals in Australia still rely on pagers as the primary communications tool for doctors; coordinating care schedules and other administrative processes remain cumbersome. At the same time, consumers and patients have very little transparency on health plan costs and covered services, with health insurance websites providing very little clarity to alleviate the problem.

One reason for this slow adoption of installing advanced IT solutions is attributed to high equipment costs, which usually involves new servers, storage and applications. In addition, there are high maintenance costs associated with keeping these systems up-and-running with software patches and upgrades. As a result, hospital administrators and boards would rather invest their limited financial budgets on new medical equipment or hire additional doctors, specialists and nurses. For smaller private clinics and doctors, the cost of technology is simply too high to even consider the option.

After years of data centre growth and IT evolution, many businesses are left living with complex, overgrown computing platforms that are chronically underutilised and highly expensive to maintain.

Is there then a way to eliminate the high capital expenses while still acquiring the latest IT solutions to improve healthcare services?

Benefits of Cloud computing

There is a lot of conversation on Cloud computing and how it could benefit our healthcare practices. With Cloud computing, hospitals, particularly the large ones, are able to deliver IT as a service without the costly and complex investment in infrastructure and applications, freeing them to focus on strategic business initiatives while delivering better service levels, increased business agility and reduced costs.

The big gain is hospitals pay only for the services they use, without having to maintain or incur upfront infrastructure costs, giving businesses the technical tools to become more agile.Cloud computing presents an opportunity for healthcare providers to improve patient care, protect their privacy and mitigate the risks associated with implementing expensive technology.

Even though Cloud computing comes across as a complex web of knowledge it provides some crucial long-term benefits including:

  • Increased IT responsiveness and efficiency
  • Reduced capital expenditures and operational overhead
  • Greater flexibility through an on-demand, pay-as-you-go model that scales with your business.

With the implementation of Cloud computing, healthcare professionals across the globe can collaborate in real time and share information without the need to invest in expensive infrastructure. The Cloud provides a centralised platform for healthcare professionals to access reports, scans, electronic medical records (EMRs) and prescriptions and patient information and history such as insurance claims, prescriptions, and lab reports from anywhere in the world. Having a central repository for patient information will mitigate the risks of misdiagnosis or the prescription of the wrong medication, as well as eliminating chances of conflicting treatments where multiple healthcare professionals are involved.

Correctly implementing and utilising information technology will offer healthcare practices enormous benefits, with Cloud computing offering better access to healthcare services and information that would subsequently result in improved outcomes, fewer errors and increased cost savings.

Cloud computing's pay-per-use model means healthcare providers can leverage the latest software solutions while keeping operating costs to a minimum, covering only the essentials. In addition, with patient data stored in the Cloud, health professionals and hospitals will no longer need to invest in storage systems.

Finally, Cloud computing fits very nicely with increasingly mobile healthcare professionals who may need to administer service from remote locations, enabling physicians to provide better patient care at a lower cost without sacrificing their quality of work and productivity.

Things to watch out for when choosing a Cloud partner

Although Cloud computing innovation in the healthcare industry is underway, choosing the right solutions with long-term viability remains an issue as only a few commercially proven solutions are currently out in the market.

Risk is something all medical professionals and organisations are acutely familiar with. When looking at Cloud solutions, be sure to ask about the provider's disaster-recovery strategy, backups, compliance with national health standards.

As the key promise of Cloud computing is its ability to make information available anytime, anywhere, it is critical to check if the applications can be accessed in locations where health services will likely be delivered when reviewing available Cloud-based offerings.

There is a plethora of medical applications in use today that are built on proprietary systems, developed specifically to conform to the way the organisation operates. Many are likely built on Windows or Linux platforms. When looking to migrate to a Cloud-based solution, it’s important to check that your Cloud partner offers a migration path from your existing infrastructure.

Future outlook

According to Laura DuBois, program VP Storage Software at IDC, Cloud-based solutions can bring quantifiable raw cost savings, as well as a number of strategic benefits designed for the betterment of the company in a much broader sense. "These include operational cost, cost restructuring, competency alignment, risk management, rapid scalability and deployment benefits.”

DuBois, "Today, 41.8 per cent of a healthcare organisation's IT budget is allocated to a traditional IT deployment, whereas in two years' time this will decrease to 35.4 per cent, a decline of six percentage points. With this change comes an increase in the percentage of the overall IT budget allocated to private and public Cloud services. For infrastructure suppliers, this signals a very real change in how firms will procure services and solutions in 2013."

Cloud computing is more than reducing the costs of delivering services by eliminating on-premise data centres. The real benefit is achieved by taking advantage of a new generation of innovative applications and freeing up IT resources for much needed innovation.

Healthcare organisations will continue to see IT budgets being squeezed. CIOs and IT managers need to find creative approaches to delivering higher levels of service to their users. Cloud computing offers a viable alternative for many organisations of all sizes and health professionals seeking to solve current problems while delivering the best possible healthcare service.

Brian Sharpe is CEO of Uber Global Enterprise

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