How Cloud Computing is Transforming Healthcare

Technologies in healthcare are constantly evolving. Many hospitals have undergone changes with legacy systems to include electronic health records (EHRs), a digital format of paper records, which was mandated by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) and enforced by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Such a transformation in healthcare has provided both administration personnel and physicians with timely access to medical records when needed.

With the adoption of EHRs at many medical facilities, which are currently housed on traditional client-server architectures, technology has simplified operations making it more efficient and customer-centric. However, adopting cloud services would make health care operations even more convenient and cost effective.

This has yet to evolve though.

The cloud offers, as many people already know, on-demand computing. It uses the latest in technology to deploy, access, and use networked information, applications, and resources. It has a complex infrastructure that may be hard for some to understand.

End users though are sure to find out that cloud computing is the suited choice for their business, as it is likely to be less costly than having multiple computers in medical rooms needing proper hardware, software and network accessibility to upload, store, and retrieve patient or other medical data.

IT in healthcare has offered, thus far, worthy benefits to the healthcare industry?so one expects there to be in the near future, once secure and safeguards are in place for cloud computing, carrier clouds and cloud service providers having health data delivery networks offering storage, electronic data interchange (EDI) and patient management. Yet potential loss of control over certain sensitive patient data has slowed cloud adoption. Nonetheless, with IT spending on the rise, cloud-based electronic health records (EHRs) is beginning to have an impact on the health industry.

Cloud computing does have its issues - lack of security and privacy are the two primary concerns

In order to overcome these concerns, cloud providers must act in accordance with the provisions set forth in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. Until now, there has been some uneasiness amongst patients that say using a cloud service provider can complicate privacy of data, and there are concerns of allowing multiple users to share EHRs among facilities.

Nevertheless, cloud computing is able to transform healthcare. It can offer health care organizations on-demand hosted services and Software as a Service (SaaS) infrastructure to provide them with quick access to business applications or fulfill customer relationship management (CRM). As an infrastructure as a service (IaaS), it can offer on-demand computing and large storage for medical facilities. And as Platform as a Service (PaaS), it can offer a security-enhanced environment for Web services and the deployment of applications.

Transforming health care in the cloud is about more than the delivery of medical information from multiple computers at anytime, anywhere, and on any mobile device. It is also about the benefits of being able to connect medical centers and cloud users for the purpose of sharing patients' health data over the Internet.

Cloud computing seems to be a necessity in the medical field. It just may be the answer to help transform health care to share patient information between medical providers on urgent cases in real-time .

In transforming healthcare to use cloud computing services, there has to be strategy: A feasible cloud strategy for a health care facility could be to use a public cloud infrastructure to allow public access to generic health information or retrieve medical resources?hospitals and health clinics could use a public cloud for remote storage of their own medical data, not the patients'. Basically, a public cloud could offer the healthcare industry service agility and cost savings.

A private cloud, instead, could be used to connect healthcare providers to transfer electronic documents and share health information on patients. Examples include:

•  Clinical applications (EHRs, physician enquiries, pharmacy orders)

•  Nonclinical, healthcare management applications (to handle revenue cycle management)

•  Patient management (such as patient billing and claims)

Whether managed internally in the data center or hosted externally at a service provider, it is important to know that such an infrastructure could provide enhanced privacy and security over deploying a public cloud strategy. Even though there are also risks to data security for private clouds, certain measures like utilizing a virtual private network (VPN) can be taken to address possible security risks when one has remote access into the cloud.

A secure, private cloud environment using policy-based control of computing resources is an apt solution for cloud consumers to avoid serious vulnerabilities. However, it still requires specific requirements to only allow authorized personnel to have access to the data either hosted internally or externally.

Healthcare facilities that decide on a private cloud resolution can opt for a virtualization platform at VMware or Microsoft. VMware vSphere has a suitable cloud computing operating system. Otherwise, go for Microsoft's private cloud instead, which uses Windows Server with Hyper-V and the System Center. Both cloud options are able to meet escalating business needs to run cloud applications and/or supply cloud-based computing and services .

There is also the Microsoft Azure cloud computing system that can provide on-demand simple access to healthcare applications and data. It uses a PaaS environment and the provider, in this case Microsoft, provides a service to supply the networks, servers and storage needs.

Microsoft's Azure system complies with the data protection and privacy laws set forth in HIPAA and the HITECH Act. This system also meets Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) criteria. Either MS Azure's set of .NET Services integrate public cloud-based applications or SQL Server-based data services provide the secure infrastructure.

Regardless of what cloud service platform is used or which cloud provider has unmatched virtualized applications as a service via the cloud, the delivery of computing and service must permit sharing of propriety data resources to help physicians and health care providers to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. As well, both the cloud platform and provider must ensure all health data remains secure and private.

If these conditions are met, there will no longer be resistance to cloud computing adoption in the healthcare industry.

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