How is Cloud Computing Used in Healthcare

Cloud computing is playing an essential role in the healthcare industry. A report by Markets and Markets estimates the present value of the global healthcare computing market to be 39.4 billion US dollars. In addition, the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 17.8 percent and reach about 89.4 billion US dollars by 2027.

The beauty of using cloud computing in healthcare is that it plays a key role in helping the healthcare healthcare industry to the robust tech ecosystem that has already transformed so many industries. We’ll discuss how healthcare organizations can take advantage of the cloud. 

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a type of computing that relies on shared resources, rather than having local servers or personal devices to store data and run applications. This means that users can access their data and applications from anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection. One advantage of cloud computing is that it can be more cost-effective than traditional methods, since users only pay for the resources they use (pay for what you use). Cloud computing can also be more scalable, meaning that it can easily accommodate increased demand. By using shared resources, cloud computing contributes to reducing the environmental impact of computing.  Cloud computing is already popular as more businesses and individuals move from on-premise systems.

General advantages of cloud computing

Organizations of any industry and size in any location can enjoy the benefits of the adoption of cloud computing technologies. Such benefits include agility, scalability, cost reduction, and privacy among many others. 

  • Lower initial costs: One of the key advantages of cloud computing is the significant reduction of both initial and operational costs. Cloud computing eliminates the need to invest heavily on hardware or pay for the unused capacity of the available IT resources. It works on a pay-per-use basis where you only pay for the resource capacity that you use. For example, you only pay for the storage you use instead of traditionally purchasing non-scalable storage which you may not use in the near future. 
  • Agility: With cloud computing, you have an extensive list of technologies which you can use to create and develop any type of application faster than it was possible before. Examples of such technologies include Machine Learning, Data Analytics, IoT, storage, and databases.
  • Scalability: Cloud computing gives businesses broad access to computer system resources on-demand. These resources are scalable since you can either expand their capacity or shrink it to meet your changing business requirements. Moreover, your company can grow physically by expanding resources to new regions within a very short time. Cloud service providers such as Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have infrastructure everywhere in the world. Therefore, you can configure your applications and make them ready for use in a few clicks. 
  • Low latency: Latency is the time it takes for a data request to be processed and a response to be returned. It can be affected by a number of factors, including network congestion and server load. By using a cloud computing platform, businesses can improve their latency performance by taking advantage of the scalability and flexibility of the cloud. This means that they can load balance across multiple servers and respond more quickly to spikes in demand. As a result, businesses can provide a better experience for their customers and employees.
  • Security and privacy: Cloud computing supports security and privacy by protecting critical data from manual loss as well as unauthorized access. In addition, in case data breaches occur, the perpetrators can be discovered by tracking digital footprints. 

Who provides cloud computing services?

Cloud computing services are provided by a variety of companies both large and small. These companies offer a range of services, including storage, computing power, and software applications.

The current top global providers of cloud computing services include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle, and Alibaba. All these providers are used by some of the world's largest companies and these are just a few of the many providers of cloud computing services; there are also many smaller providers that offer specialized services. The competition at the top, especially among AWS, Azure and Google is so intense that sometimes it’s difficult to authoritatively point out who really is the leader. This is a good sign though, because it means the users get to enjoy the benefits of this rigorous competition. 

What is healthcare cloud computing?

Healthcare cloud computing is the use of cloud-based resources to store, manage, and process healthcare data. Unlike traditional on-premise healthcare IT systems, healthcare cloud computing offers a number of advantages, including increased flexibility, scalability, and security. Perhaps most importantly, healthcare cloud computing can help to lower costs by reducing the need for costly on-premise hardware and software. 

At the care provision front, the healthcare cloud involves the on-demand delivery of IT resources such as databases and computing power to healthcare customers via the internet. 

How cloud computing is used in healthcare

Cloud computing can be used in many important ways across the healthcare industry, depending on the type of facility or function. It’s advisable that organizations in the healthcare industry work with experienced healthcare IT companies to help them implement the most suitable cloud solutions for their enterprises.  Here are the top ways cloud computing is finding good use in the healthcare industry:  

1. Storage and management

The cloud provides scalable storage and database systems where patient data can be stored, analyzed, and accessed remotely. 

Healthcare organizations generate large amounts of data on a daily basis, and traditional storage methods can quickly become overloaded. HIPAA compliant cloud storage provides a more scalable and flexible solution. In addition, cloud-based data management systems can offer faster and easier access to patient records. This is especially beneficial for organizations that serve a large number of patients or have multiple locations.

2. Communication

Cloud computing facilitates cloud communications where healthcare providers can communicate via voice, share data and information over the internet. In cloud communication, the cloud provider hosts the applications, switching, and storage. The healthcare organization can then access these resources via the internet. 

One common use case is sharing of patient health records (PHRs). PHRs are digital versions of a person's medical history that can be accessed by authorized clinicians from any location. By storing PHRs in the cloud, providers can easily share them with other members of a patient's care team, as well as with the patients themselves. Another use case is for telemedicine services. Telemedicine uses video conferencing and other forms of remote communication to allow providers to consult with patients from a distance. This can be used for everything from conducting initial consultations to providing follow-up care after a hospital stay.

3. Research 

Cloud computing is useful in healthcare research because it supports knowledge sharing and clinical trial management. 

By storing data in the cloud, researchers can share large datasets easily and securely, without the need for expensive infrastructure. In addition, cloud computing can be used to process and analyze data quickly and efficiently. For example, researchers can use cloud-based machine learning algorithms to identify patterns in patient data.

4. Diagnosis

Cloud technologies such as data analytics help with the diagnosis of diseases. They analyze available patient data and match it to the data of known diseases then give a list of the most probable diseases as output. 

Benefits of cloud computing in healthcare

Here are the top most benefits of cloud computing in healthcare:

1. Cloud computing reduces costs in healthcare

Cloud computing can help healthcare organizations to reduce costs in a number of ways. One way is by reducing the need for on-site IT infrastructure. With cloud-based solutions, hospitals and clinics can allocate their IT budget to other areas, such as patient care or research. Another way is by sharing resources and data across multiple devices, enabling healthcare providers to cut down on duplication of effort and wasted time. In addition, cloud-based solutions often come with built-in tools for tracking and managing usage, so providers can quickly identify areas where cost savings can be achieved. 

2. Healthcare cloud computing helps with detecting public health threats

The easy access and quick sharing of information via the cloud makes great contributions towards early detection of health threats. 

For example, if a patient in one country shows symptoms of a new disease, the details of the disease can be quickly accessed and shared among healthcare providers in other countries. This gives healthcare professionals the ability to track the spread of diseases and take action to prevent them from spreading further.

3. Cloud computing improves collaboration in the healthcare industry

Cloud computing makes data sharing easier and quicker. In extension, data sharing encourages collaboration. Using the cloud, various healthcare stakeholders including doctors and nurses can share information confidentially and access patients’ medical reports remotely in real time. Moreover, cloud computing’s support for agile updates and remote conferencing improves collaboration between healthcare service providers even further. 

4. High efficiency

The storage of data in the cloud means that accessing it becomes much easier for healthcare practitioners. Sharing is equally fast as practitioners can quickly share large amounts of information in seconds, and even better work on the same tasks in real-time. This definitely leads to high efficiency levels in service delivery to patents. 

5. Healthcare cloud computing saves lives

Speed is critical in the healthcare sector. The agility with which doctors have access to stored patient data and possible diagnoses helps to save patients’ lives. In an industry where time is of the essence, being able to access information quickly is essential.

6. Cloud computing enhances better decision-making in healthcare

By storing data in the cloud, healthcare organizations can create a central repository that can be accessed by authorized personnel from anywhere in the world. This gives healthcare professionals the ability to quickly share information and make decisions based on the latest data. Additionally, the data analytics available on the cloud can recommend treatment options based on patients’ needs. 

7. Healthcare cloud computing protects patient data

Confidentiality is not negotiable when it comes to patent data. This is why all healthcare cloud computing technologies are required to be compliant with regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  Cloud providers also invest heavily in security measures, such as data encryption and multi-factor authentication.

Also read: HIPAA compliant cloud storage

8. Healthcare cloud computing conserves the environment

Traditional data centers account for 2% of the global greenhouse gas emissions as well as contribute to e-waste immensely. Since cloud computing can eliminate the need for physical data centers, it contributes significantly to low global greenhouse gas emissions and e-waste.  

Which clouds are used in healthcare?

There are generally three major types of cloud computing options. These are the public, private and hybrid cloud. Any of these can be used in the healthcare industry.  

1. Public cloud

The public cloud refers to cloud computing services that are offered by third-party providers. These providers make their services available to the public over the Internet, and businesses can access them on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Public cloud providers are an excellent solution for healthcare, especially the small to medium healthcare organizations, because they are accessible at a low cost and require little maintenance. They enable rapid deployment and innovation, and thus, healthcare facilities can easily increase their storage. Public cloud solutions have a wider reach because their self-service capabilities are highly flexible and scalable.

Important to note that even though flexibility is a significant advantage of the public cloud, it significantly affects security. Its in-built security features may not be the best for protecting extremely sensitive data. To overcome this challenge, healthcare facilities must consider implementing cybersecurity solutions to deter cyberattacks, which are on the rise

2. Private cloud

The private cloud is a type of cloud computing that delivers similar advantages to the public cloud, including scalability and self-service, but uses private networks or data centers. A private cloud can be deployed on-premises, off-premises, or a hybrid of both. On-premise private clouds are owned and operated by the enterprise, while off-premise private clouds are provided as a service by a third-party provider exclusively for the enterprise. Private clouds offer increased security and compliance control compared to public clouds, as well as the ability to customize the environment to meet specific business needs. Private clouds can be implemented using a variety of technologies, including virtualization, containers, and bare metal servers.

Furthermore, healthcare organizations can develop their own security features that ensure perfect data security and compliance, which allows them to implement strategies for protected health information (PHI)

The main drawback of private clouds is that organizations may lack the flexibility to leverage new capabilities in good time.

3. Hybrid cloud

The hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment that uses a combination of the public and private cloud services with orchestration and integration between the two platforms. The hybrid cloud model allows businesses to more flexibly and efficiently deploy their workloads and applications. A key benefit of the hybrid cloud is that it allows businesses to maintain control over sensitive data and applications while still being able to take advantage of the scalability and agility of the public cloud.

Hybrid clouds offer healthcare organizations the scalability and flexibility of public clouds while safeguarding protected health information with private clouds. However, the costs of a hybrid cloud are higher than those of a public cloud.  

Common cloud solutions for healthcare

Here are some of the most common healthcare cloud solutions. 

1. Telehealth

Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care and patient/provider communications. It allows doctors to provide care to patients who are located far away. It also makes it possible for patients to consult with specialists via video conferencing. In addition, cloud computing can be used to develop new telehealth applications and services. 

Telehealth uses these four distinct platforms:

  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM)
  • Live video
  • Mobile health (mCare or mHealth)
  • Store-and-forward

2. Electronic Health Records (EHRs)

Healthcare organizations are finding cloud-based EHR systems to be perfect solutions for their needs. Cloud EHR solutions allow healthcare facilities to store their data on external servers and only requires a smart device and internet connection to access it via the web. Private cloud solutions store the data in-house in an internal server, and the healthcare staff need only the internet to access it. 

3. Medical Imaging

Cloud computing is increasingly being used for medical imaging, due to its ability to store and process large amounts of data quickly and securely. One of the main benefits of using cloud computing for medical imaging is that it allows different healthcare professionals to access images from anywhere in the world. For example, a radiologist in the United States can easily view an MRI scan from a patient in India. This can be extremely helpful when trying to diagnose a rare condition or disease. Another benefit of using cloud computing for medical imaging is that it helps to reduce the cost of storing and managing images. In the past, hospitals and clinics would need to invest in expensive servers and storage devices such as CDs and DVDs, which had plenty of potential for errors, including damage and data loss. However, by using cloud services, healthcare organizations can outsource this responsibility to a third-party provider. This can save a significant amount of money. 

Important healthcare cloud trends

  • Cloud-hosted insurance solutions: Insurance companies are using advanced software solutions that enable patients to access health plans that are customized to their needs. These solutions are data-driven and simplify the process of claiming health insurance benefits.  
  • Remote care assistance: More facilities are providing virtual healthcare services, and patients are eager to adopt them. 
  • Clinical workflow automation: Healthcare facilities use SaaS-based solutions and APIs to collect data from cloud-based information systems. As a result, repetitive fields are automatically filled in, and workflows are smoother.
  • Automated claim handling: Cloud computing offers accurate and timely claim verification, which has reduced errors and enabled prompt claim processing.
  • IoT-based management systems: Healthcare facilities are starting to use IoT technologies to facilitate staff and track equipment deployment in real-time. 

Challenges of cloud computing in healthcare

Though healthcare cloud computing has numerous benefits, it also comes with its share of challenges, which include:

  • Data security and compliance: Strict compliance requirements regarding protected health information (PHI) mean that healthcare practitioners will have to invest more before they deploy healthcare cloud commuting solutions in their organizations .    
  • System downtime: Healthcare cloud computing relies heavily on computer networks and systems, and downtime may halt critical operations.
  • Migration: Migration from traditional systems to cloud-based systems can be a nightmare with all the massive data migrations and extensive troubleshooting.
  • Limited expertise: The workload on cloud systems has been increasing to a point of exceeding the available experts. 

The future of healthcare cloud computing

The cloud presents a hugely tantalizing proposition for the healthcare industry. It has the potential to increase access to care, lower costs, and improve patient outcomes. But the future of cloud computing in healthcare is also fraught with challenges and uncertainties. Many healthcare IT experts are concerned about data security and privacy, while others worry that the cloud will exacerbate existing inequalities in care. Despite these challenges, the future remains bright. As more and more healthcare organizations adopt cloud-based solutions, the industry will continue to leverage the benefits of increased access, lowered costs, and improved patient outcomes.

Conclusion

The challenges notwithstanding,  the bold move by the healthcare industry to embrace cloud computing is commendable. It's an impressive departure from the past when healthcare was perceived as too sensitive for the cloud. But now we have well-meaning regulations that have made healthcare cloud computing a reality. The patient is the ultimate winner. 

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