Choose your language:
While many industries have embraced cloud computing, the healthcare sector has been slower to adopt these solutions. Even as hospitals and other care providers began to recognize the potential efficiency and performance gains offered by the technology and its related IT services, security concerns prevented many from taking advantage of cloud computing.
This reticence appears to be dissipating. Now, healthcare providers are increasingly turning to the cloud precisely because it offers a higher degree of security than traditional solutions.
Healthcare providers' cloud adoption rate continues to grow. According to a recent MarketsandMarkets study, vertical cloud use is increasing 20 percent annually in this sector, InformationWeek reported. While only 4 percent of healthcare providers used cloud solutions in 2011, these organizations will spend $5.4 billion on these IT services by 2017.
While there are many factors contributing to this growth, security concerns are among the most prominent.
"There's a recognition now that cloud is probably going to be much more secure than you're ever going to be in your own shop, especially if it's not your core competency," said Bill Fera, a principal at EY, InformationWeek reported.
The news source noted that recent HIPAA updates impose more stringent penalties for organizations that allow data breaches to occur, and many healthcare providers now realize that lost or stolen laptops frequently cause such incidents. The news source noted that one healthcare provider paid the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights more than $1.75 million following one such event.
With the cloud, though, patient data and other sensitive information can be stored on the service providers' servers, rather than an individual healthcare professional's computer. The doctor can access this data whenever necessary without worrying about the security of the physical device.
Furthermore, cloud computing services enable healthcare providers to transfer IT security responsibilities to a dedicated third party.
"In many instances a private cloud is sometimes more secure than their own environment, especially when you talk about physician practices, small businesses and small rural community hospitals," said Mac McMillan, chair of the Health Information Management Systems Society Privacy and Security Policy Task Force, InformationWeek reported. "[P]utting your EHR in a private cloud vendor facility that probably has better security than half the data centers in healthcare today is a better solution than trying to host it yourself, both operationally and from a security perspective."
Beyond physical security, cloud services also offer potential benefits from a care perspective. As Matt Smith, program manager for Dell, recently highlighted for Healthcare IT News, cloud solutions also improve doctors' treatment capabilities by removing data availability barriers.
"Cloud computing solutions can potentially limit the amount of time that doctors and nurses spend searching for open end-points and time spent accessing and re-accessing different applications," Smith wrote. "With a single sign-on, authentication is much easier, even at different end-points and across multiple applications. This can lead to faster, more secure access to important patient data."
Such data availability is particularly important thanks to the rise of electronic health records (EHRs). As Smith noted, the adoption of EHRs is among the most significant developments to affect healthcare IT in recent years, and has the potential to deliver major benefits. The cloud increases the value of this shift.
"As data is collected for these records, it can be transferred directly to the cloud, eliminating the potential for it to get lost somewhere between point A and point B," Smith explained. "In some situations, it may even be possible to send information directly from monitoring systems and other sensors, so there's no chance for user error to creep into the process at all. The cloud can store, process, and distribute that information as needed."
For these reasons, Smith argued that cloud computing IT services can actually improve patient safety. These solutions reduce the risk of data entry errors and lost information, while also increasing patient performance tracking and updates. Such capabilities minimize the chances that a patient will receive a misdiagnosis or misguided treatment regimen.
An organization-wide effort
Smith acknowledged that many healthcare providers remain hesitant to discard their legacy systems and move their operations into a cloud environment. They recognize that such an effort must be organization-wide and that staff will require training concerning new cloud-based procedures and policies.
But this training, while essential, does not need to pose a tremendous burden. By partnering with a respected IT training services provider, healthcare organizations can ensure their doctors, nurses, administrators and all other personnel learn best practices and relevant security risks, allowing them to take advantage of cloud solutions soon after deployment.