The Benefits of the Cloud in Healthcare
It dawned on me not so long ago that I was the only sibling not directly involved in the healthcare industry. Two of my sisters are healthcare administrators. I have a brother working on medical electronic devices and another who is a consultant in obstetrics and gynecology. This article could be considered as my attempt to make up !!
Healthcare organizations are created to deliver patient care services and are not expected to drive technology innovation. There are many examples of multi-million dollar healthcare projects gone wrong. There are significant complexities associated with managing multiple stakeholders to deliver an effective IT healthcare service.
As a cloud ambassador, it should not be a surprise that I see cloud as a possible solution. The cloud offers a flexible model where capabilities considered to be sensitive and confidential can be held away from the cloud, while leveraging the cloud where it makes sense. Some of the services that can be delivered in this hybrid on-premise and cloud based model include:
- Healthcare practice management
- Electronic health records management
- Insurance interaction
- Electronic prescriptions management
By outsourcing IT to a trusted service provider, medical practices can focus on the business of delivering healthcare services. The extent of outsourcing can vary significantly, from the outsourcing of selected services, to a scenario where every aspect of IT operations, down to in-house IT systems such as desktop computers printers etc are remotely managed by a third-party.
Another emerging trend is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) where significant cost efficiencies can be realized by leveraging the personal computing devices of practitioners such as their personal laptops, smart phones and tablets. This requires the implementation of advanced mobile device management capabilities that are able to enforce security policies. These policies must ensure that those personal devices are secured to protect any patient data that may pass through it. If a devices be compromised in any way, there should be a process in place to automatically eliminate any threats. Such capabilities make it possible for physicians to be more productive, giving them the ability to access patient data on arbitrary devices knowing that patient data is secure and protected.
At a more fundamental level, cloud-based collaboration tools and capabilities can be applied to patient interaction, enabling physicals to keep in stay in touch with patients, schedule appointments, view medical records records securely etc. Such capabilities are critical in situations where a patient may wish to seek advice from more than one medical practice. The ability to grant the patient control over who has access to their medical data could revolutionized primary healthcare delivery.
As always, there are pitfalls that need to be carefully considered and mitigating actions put in place. Over-dependency on cloud based IT services introduces risk. The service could be unavailable due to an Internet connectivity or bandwidth issue with the Internet. Business applications need to be designed for this scenario, enabling the practice to continue to function, albeit in a limited capacity, until the service is fully restored. As I have travelled across emerging markets in Africa, the need to design for low bandwidth, even in today’s fibre network world is all to evident. At a physical level, it is important to select service providers with built in redundancy at the data center level, as well as at the network, and at the level of all IT resources within the data centers. Service level guarantees must be negotiated and documented in service level agreements, with appropriate penalties for poor performance. A business partner recently relocated to Cameroon and found it challenging to work due to poor / unreliable Internet connectivity. He addressed the problem by using Internet connections from two different providers. When both are working, he has adequate connectivity, and is still able to work when one connection goes down or has reduced connectivity, albeit at a diminished speed.
I would like to end by addressing one of the most common reasons people cite for not trusting the cloud, and that is security. Many are concerned about the trustworthiness of the service provider to allow their sensitive data on the provider’s network. While a more effective approach is to compare the on-premise security procedures in place against those of cloud service providers to validate confidence in their in-house IT capabilities, recent advances in cloud computing and IT have addressed this issue head on. Hybrid cloud implementations allow us to keep sensitive services in-house, while leveraging the cloud for less sensitive services. Additionally, advance encryption capabilities provide protection for confidentiality and integrity of data while flowing through insecure networks. It is therefore paramount that the right advice is sought as companies make the transition to the cloud.
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The Benefits of the Cloud in Healthcare
Dr Navti is the Africa Cloud Ambassador for the Cloud Credential Council, and a founding member and Director of the Africa 2.0 Foundation UK. He During his 13 years at IBM, he led the European private cloud technical sales business and the company’s Africa expansion strategy and marketing. He coordinated IBM’s $1bn Africa strategy for Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Angola.