While cloud computing has existed for over twenty years, it only became practical for widespread use within the last decade. The rise of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, beginning in the late 2000s, sparked the shift of billions of IT budget dollars away from traditional on-premises assets and toward remotely hosted resources.
In late 2017, technologist Robert Cringely declared the cloud the defining feature of a new era in consumer and enterprise technology. He argued it would be on par with earlier changes initiated by major innovations like the PC, the original World Wide Web and the first sophisticated mobile devices, absorbing the bulk of the nearly $1 trillion in annual IT spending in the U.S.
The Cloud and the Healthcare Sector: A Unique Opportunity With Some Key Limitations
However, adoption of cloud-based services has been uneven across industries. A report from Tata Consultancy Services found the healthcare sector averaged only 3.39 cloud applications per organization in 2011. This ranked last of all the surveyed verticals and at less than half the level of the top finisher, electronics equipment manufacturers.
Since that time, healthcare organizations have dramatically expanded their investments in cloud. BCC Research estimated the healthcare-specific cloud market would reach $35 billion by 2022. The overall size of the U.S. healthcare industry accounts for one-sixth of the country’s GDP, more than any other domain. This presents an unparalleled opportunity for cloud transformation of IT and patient services.
Successful cloud projects in healthcare will require balancing the implementation of new efficiency-enhancing technologies with adherence to regulations on patient privacy and data security, as codified in HIPAA and other laws. Let’s look at how providers and payers are navigating the challenges en route to driving the growth of the healthcare cloud, as well as what this means for their providers, staff and patients.
Cloud Computing: An On-demand Engine for Streamlined Data Management and Sharing
Scalability is a core benefit of cloud architectures, and it manifests itself in two main ways:
- The computing, storage and networking resources of a cloud are virtually limitless.
- Devices of all kinds, regardless of location, can be configured to access a cloud.
In healthcare, these scalable cloud deployments can support 24/7 access to data, without the restrictions imposed by on-premise IT infrastructure. Accordingly, they meet demand for real-time information sharing between providers, which is beneficial for every purpose from medical research to referral generation.
Easier EHR Management
Cloud infrastructure is also useful for future-proofing healthcare IT operations. Even hospitals once reluctant to migrate records to the cloud have re-evaluated their positions to better manage growing amounts of data without breaking the bank on new equipment purchases. In particular, the rapid spread of electronic health records over the last decade has put pressure on traditional data storage and management practices, as evident in this stunning chart of the 2008-2015 change in adoption rates compiled by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Cloud also provides relief in the form of scalable resources.
Improved Compliance and Value-based Care Delivery
Although the cloud has acquired a reputation for complicating regulatory compliance, it can actually help in some respects. Smaller practices needing to comply with MACRA (i.e., by demonstrating safe electronic exchange of patient records) can lean on cloud solutions to compensate for their limited IT budgets and shortages of technical personnel.
In this way, cloud services support the industry-wide move toward value-based care. They can also be combined with the guidance of an independent review organization (IRO) like Advanced Medical Reviews (AMR), which likewise provides additional resources (in this case, with independent, physician-level review) to overcome limited bandwidth within the organization.
New Ways to Interact With Payers
On the payer side, cloud infrastructure can form the backbone of better relationships between plans and subscribers. Many of the intuitive experiences people value online, from purchasing something to making changes to a bank account, are only possible because of cloud computing services. Payers setting up cloud-based portal software can deliver a better end-user experience while reducing their own implementation costs and in-house security responsibilities.
Cloud computing is a powerful resource for today’s healthcare industry. It can be integrated with traditional IT assets as part of a flexible hybrid architecture and paired with IRO assistance from AMR to deliver the best possible results in terms of care quality, cost and scalability.