The acceleration of cloud adoption in healthcare is amazing. Organizations have stopped asking if they are moving to cloud services and started comparing notes on when. And the motivating drivers are shifting from operational efficiency to strategic considerations, ranging from augmenting much-needed skills and expertise to elastic access to world-class computer and data science capabilities.

Cloud’s role in healthcare IT has grown significantly in the past several years, responding to changing market dynamics and emerging trends. Escalating consumerism, regulatory impacts, increasing digitalization, value-driven healthcare, and resulting healthcare delivery transformation all contribute to cloud’s current expansion in the healthcare space.

According to MarketsandMarkets, the global adoption for cloud services in healthcare is expected to grow from $3.73 billion in 2015 to nearly $9.5 billion by 2020. Other research organizations have identified similar fast-track growth in cloud capabilities, across all industries, including healthcare.

Progressive healthcare organizations are leveraging the cloud as a strategic advantage to innovate more quickly and efficiency. The cloud is also the natural place for provider organizations to engage more closely with their customers since many already conduct much of their digital life in the cloud.

The cloud is rapidly shifting from a cost-savings approach for back-office systems to the default approach for many institutions. Much of the growth is coming from new applications that augment and extend an organization’s ability to scale and execute. Organizations are even moving previously sacrosanct administrative and clinical capabilities to the cloud due to the considerable strategic value of co-located data and elastic compute capabilities.

The steady drumbeat of ransomware, security breaches and data loss has been fueling increasing anxiety about information security in provider organizations. In the past, security concerns were often cited as a reason to steer clear of the cloud.

However, the increasing sophistication of the attacks and resultant complexity of securely managing data mean most organizations are far better off leveraging the world class capabilities of major cloud providers to provide up to the minute information security.

Today, protected health information can be stored safely in the cloud. Many organizations now realize that the perceived security benefit of keeping data on premise is largely an illusion. Phishing, DDoS attacks, malware, and internal reconnaissance are clearly on the rise, and risk is risk, whether data is on-premise or lives in the cloud.

Connecting to the Internet and operating in 21st century where patients and partners must be able to access data leaves organizations open to being hacked. Security is all about how providers manage that pervasive risk, and many are turning the tasks over to outside cloud providers whose core competency is data security.

The cloud’s shift from cost avoidance to strategic has many aspects ranging from elastic consumption of storage, compute, and data science capabilities for critical projects to augmenting or outsourcing key capabilities such as security or advanced data science.

Healthcare organizations are turning to the cloud to:

  • Extend care. Extension of care to the home requires acquiring and integrating data from many sites and sources beyond the provider’s firewalls. Cloud-based technologies that can facilitate in-home patient care include wired and wireless Internet of Things (IoT) devices that perform tasks like home monitoring, patent engagement tools, and customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities.
  • Create visibility across the care continuum. Cloud enables value-based care by creating visibility across the continuum of healthcare required so disparate entities can seamlessly collaborate and orchestrate positive patient outcomes. All participants, including patient, family, insurers, caregivers, administrative personnel, can monitor the patient throughout the continuum of care.
  • Accelerate information sharing across the network. Optimal care and positive outcomes often hinge on the collaborative effort of multiple providers. Cloud services enable healthcare providers to share information easily and securely across the network, extending the capabilities of staff and offering better services to patients.
  • Facilitate research. Many healthcare facilities also conduct significant medical research. Cloud-based technologies enable researchers to create insights from large, complex and disparate data sources and accelerate time to insight.

The shift to the cloud is happening across every industry. In most cases organizations are starting with hybrid scenarios to realize cost savings, and gain experience in the cloud on less critical back office systems. According to a paper from the Cloud Standards Customer Council, “The economic benefits of cloud computing can be significant since cloud computing provides cost flexibility and the potential for reduced costs. From an operational perspective, cloud services offer scalability and the ability to adjust to demand rapidly. Cloud services can offer better security and privacy for health data and health systems.”

Healthcare organizations are realizing tangible results from leveraging cloud technologies.

  • Organizations that move their IT to the cloud eliminate the overhead of purchasing and managing infrastructure, servers, and networks.
  • Healthcare organizations can consume just the right amount of resources at all times. Usage varies depending on product and institution lifecycle stage, but organizations can “pay by the drink” based on their current needs, and they can scale up or down as needed.
  • Cloud is cost effective. Major industry players invest tens of billions of dollars annually to create robustness and scale that simply cannot be reproduced in-house at provider organizations.
  • Cloud is robust, distributed and leading providers are nearing five nines availability.

The data in the healthcare cloud ecosystem is gaining critical mass. The larger the network and the more information it contains, the greater the value in being a part of it. When more patients, care entities and healthcare ecosystem participants are exchanging data in the network, improved efficiencies, insights and outcomes become possible.

The cloud helps healthcare providers run simpler, faster and less expensively while facilitating collaboration with more parties and accessing large datasets for insight that can lead to better patient care and outcomes. In a market rife with unknowns, the cloud provides a reliable foundation that allows healthcare organizations to operate more efficiently and adapt to the rapidly changing clinical, financial and regulatory environment.

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David Delaney

David Delaney

David Delaney, MD, is Chief Medical Officer and head of the US healthcare team at SAP.