Critical Impact Areas for Cloud-Based Health CareNovember 23, 2010
The U.S. health care system remains one of the most fragmented, expensive and inefficient health systems on the planet. Increasingly, innovation is focused less on the development of new cures and therapies and more with how to improve the quality of care at a lower price point. Enter cloud computing, which, as discussed in a new report at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), is fast becoming a part of the health and biomedical arenas in ways that may reconfigure how we think about health care delivery — and the cost of it — in the coming years.
The health care system generates huge amounts of data: patient records, biomedical research, insurance claims. Data and the ability to manage large amounts of it is a major concern for hospitals, insurers and researchers. But cloud computing offers each of these players a potentially more cost-effective alternative to traditional data storage and management solutions.
The federal government’s recent moves to stimulate cost savings and greater efficiencies in the health care sector have focused on the adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) in physician practices as a means to not only save money, but also to reduce medical errors and improve coordination of care. Cloud computing is a crucial part of health information exchanges, which allow health care providers, such as hospitals and individual medical practices, to integrate EMRs and better coordinate care if a patient needs to seek treatment in another city or from outside the network. Cloud-based EMRs promise to be disruptive innovations to traditional EMRs, which many small physician practices consider too expensive and complex.
Increasingly we find cloud-computing players — including SalesForce, Amazon, Dell, IBM and GE — offering such health care solutions in the cloud to address the needs of the health sector.
Despite the promise of substantial savings and improved quality of care, there are numerous challenges to address before cloud computing becomes the norm. Moving forward, vendors will need to address critical impact areas to build the trust of the health care sector include:
- Knowing when encryption is available in the cloud once the networks scale. Encryption adds to cloud-computing suppliers’ overhead costs. Some vendors, it is feared, may cut corners on encryption as services scale, exposing users to a greater level of risk in order to cut costs.
- In-house security for traditional IT services vs. out-sourcing the security function to cloud suppliers. Vendors will need to build trust and prove to customers that they are capable of providing the necessary level of security that can withstand outside hacks and security breaches.
- Private vs. public clouds for health data. Many fear that sharing a platform in a public cloud would compromise privacy regulations. Over the next several years, cloud suppliers will be working to meet the requirements of the HITECH Act that regulates the manner in which health data must be stored in the cloud.
- Personal Health Records. For now, many health players are watching the manner in which cloud computing plays out with PHRs before they rush headlong into adoption on the cloud for EMRs, given the greater complexity of EMRs across an entire medical practice.
- Banking and financial services. The health care sector could learn much from these areas; many privacy and security issues are similar. While HIPAA is often used in discussions of cloud computing to put a brake on things, in reality, HIPAA does not necessarily count out cloud computing.