Like its atmospheric modifier, cloud computing comes together in boundless shapes and sizes. Some say it’s a simple feat — accessing and storing data and programs over the Internet instead of on a hard drive — but a mind-boggling combination of data processing, synchronization, communication, and protection takes place beyond the individual user’s confines.
In any case, it’s big business, with public cloud companies projected to stake out an estimated $500 billion in market cap by 2020. “The depth and breadth of cloud progress is pretty shocking,” investor Byron Deeter of Bessemer Venture Partners told Forbes.
That’s a long way from the roots of the dot-com era, when Application Server Providers (ASPs) connected people via the Web to software hosted in offsite data centers, and thereby offered businesses a viable alternative to buying hardware and hiring people to manage it. Still, the drawbacks at the time — sluggish connections and sky-high ASP operations costs — kept traditionally late-adopter industries like healthcare mostly on the ground rather than in the cloud.
As recently as 2014 only about 22 percent of healthcare organizations surveyed by HIMSS Analytics were planning to use cloud computing for back-office functions. In 2016, nearly 47 percent of respondents have cloud usage in their back-office plans. The same holds true for business continuity/ disaster recovery functions and health information exchange: the former rising from 31 percent in 2014 to 47 percent in 2016, and the latter from 20 to 41 percent.
“In 2014, the cloud was primarily seen as a model that could support HIE and data storage, whereas, in 2016, it is being leveraged for a full range of functions including patient empowerment,” according to the survey report.
Indeed, healthcare entities cite the following factors (in order of importance) in their move to the cloud:
- Cost savings
- More complete disaster recovery capabilities
- More scalability for internal requirements
- Speed of deployment
- Improved user access to applications
- Plans to scale information and virtual care to patients
- Freeing up internal storage/compute cycles
- Accommodation of mobile workforce
- Regulatory compliance
- Accessibility to compute cycles
Another way to say it is that core health IT components, such as electronic health record (EHR) systems, cannot be at risk for downtime with vital patient care considerations hanging in the balance. With technologies coalescing in the background, tens of thousands of EHR users across multiple vendor platforms now use the cloud daily with complete trust.
Additional “hot spot” cloud applications in healthcare continue to emerge in the areas of telemedicine, medical imaging, public health and patient self-management, hospital management, therapeutic interventions, and secondary use of data for analysis and clinical research.
In response, cloud service providers “need to ensure uptime and performance, deliver on compliance and service level agreements, and offer reliable technical support,” the HIMSS Analytics report states.
NetDirector, one of the originators of the cloud-based integration platform, has built its healthcare business by ensuring the movement of clinical records between providers, helping them achieve a safer and more efficient level of care. The company’s HealthData Exchange combines cloud-based technology with world-class security levels to enhance workflow — which, in turn, allows providers to focus on patient care.