Healthcare Organizations Have Embraced the Cloud...Now What?

Following large-scale adoption of electronic health records, due in part to government subsidy and incentives, healthcare providers have embraced cloud technology as a means to host EHRs and other clinical applications.

A recent survey by HIMMS Analytics revealed that:

* 83% of IT executives report they are using cloud services today

* 9.3% plan to

* 6% do not intend to adopt cloud-based applications at all

* The balance does not know the plans of their organizations.

Based on this data and other widely reported findings that echo this trend, it’s apparent that cloud adoption in healthcare IT is widespread.

Initially, reluctance about cloud technology was common among healthcare IT decision makers despite the benefits. Many feared the risk of potential security breaches, due to the sensitive nature of patient data as well as the significant repercussions facing healthcare organizations in the wake of a breach. Other concerns include HIPAA compliance, availability of data, and the fear of operational disruption.

Despite the initial hesitation, new data suggests that healthcare organizations have moved beyond these once widely-held concerns. One telling finding, via Imprivata’s “2014 Desktop Virtualization Trends in Healthcare” report, is that 40% of healthcare organizations surveyed report now storing protected health information in the cloud.  While this is far from the majority, PHI is often considered the most sensitive segment of healthcare data, and that figure is certainly up from years’ past, indicating that a significant shift has taken place with decision makers now placing more trust in cloud infrastructure.

Following that shift, what continues to evolve is the benefits that healthcare organizations have realized through the adoption of cloud-based health IT services. With trust on the rise, use cases and benefits of cloud in healthcare continue to surface.

Perhaps the most widely cited benefit of cloud computing comes from cost savings. In the recent Dell Cloud Adoption Index, a significant portion (39%) of surveyed healthcare respondents cite cost savings as the biggest benefit of cloud computing.

Beyond the cost cutting cloud model, other benefits now being reported are reflective of larger industry trends. One such trend is the widespread mergers and consolidation among providers that have made geographically disparate healthcare systems a common model. With EHRs now the industry standard, it’s crucial that patient data is immediately accessible across clinic locations. If 40% of surveyed healthcare organizations are using cloud technology to store patient health records, as previously cited, this suggests that a common benefit is the ability to facilitate data flow between devices and physical sites.

With the emergence of cloud, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) adoption has also become increasingly prominent in healthcare organizations. Whether healthcare practitioners are bringing their own devices into the healthcare facility or not, they are now afforded the flexibility to work from multiple devices, or the device of their choice, as patient data can follow the practitioner from device to device, or, as we’ve seen, from one treatment site to another. The instant connectivity afforded by the cloud is also conducive to collaboration between healthcare practitioners and acts as a means towards remote care and patient monitoring (dubbed connected health) - a phenomenon that is expected to grow in the coming years. It also opens up new possibilities like giving pharmacies and emergency facilities near real-time access to patient data, fostering better patient care.

Other advancements emerging from the wave of cloud innovation are advanced medical imaging capabilities and predictive analytics. Accurate assessment and management of population health risks, outcomes-based care, simplifying complex data, and harnessing the colossal volume of clinical data for predictive insight are all benefits that have yet to be fully realized, but bring the potential to drastically elevate the capabilities of today’s healthcare industry.

Like predictive analytics, the full scope of benefits achieved from cloud adoption continues to evolve, and likely has just started to emerge. Like many innovations before it, it is clear that the cloud is transforming the way healthcare is administered globally. It remains to be seen where the cloud will take the industry next.

Bob Bogle is a senior vice president at En Pointe Technologies, a Los Angeles-based IT reseller and integrator serving multiple industries, including healthcare.

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