Cloud computing is a flexible solution that allows hospitals to leverage a network of remotely accessible servers where they can store large volumes of data in a secure environment that is maintained by IT professionals.
According to BCC research, the global healthcare cloud computing market is expected to hit $35 billion by 2022, with an annualized growth rate of 11.6%. Despite that, 69% of respondents in a 2018 survey indicated that the hospital they worked at did not have a plan for moving existing data centers to the cloud.
The adoption of cloud technology has been increasing at a frenetic pace. For behavioral healthcare organizations, cloud computing solutions can frequently provide better levels of service as compared to their internal IT efforts. Part of this has to do with scale, but much of it is the investment in personnel, technology, rigid processes, and expertise that cloud providers can bring to healthcare IT.
Below are some of the most common advantages of cloud computing.
Advantage #1 – Data Storage Scalability
One of the biggest current applications of the cloud in healthcare is data storage. The healthcare industry works with a tremendous amount of data, and even the most sophisticated hardware installations can’t handle it all. Cloud networks allow healthcare professionals to store all the data they use off-site to avoid the cost and strain of maintaining physical servers.
Cloud-based services, on the other hand, allow companies to address fluctuating demands. When a need arises, it is easy to scale up the organization’s capacity with what amounts to the push of a button. Likewise, if there is a need to scale down, there is flexibility within a cloud model to do so. When every second lost affects patient safety and budget, flexibility can be a real competitive advantage.
Cloud computing offers additional flexibility through the typical pay-as-you-go cost structure associated with data storage. Cloud-computing is a fully scale-able solution that can expand in unison with your business.
Advantage #2 – Cost
Cost is always an essential factor in deciding where to host your applications and data. Today, healthcare companies spend upwards of 75% of their IT budgets on maintaining internal systems. While it is not always an apples-to-apples dollar comparison, there are significant differences in the cost models. Cloud computing cuts the high cost of hardware and capital expenditures. With the cloud, a company pays for a subscription service that becomes an operating expense based on their scale. It also allows organizations to divert funds into other operational areas that would have previously been used to create a robust IT infrastructure (which in many cases is underused).
Providers of cloud computing solutions handle the administration, construction and maintenance of cloud data storage services, enabling health care providers to reduce their up-front costs and focus their efforts on the things they do best: caring for patients.
Advantage #3 – Data Security
If done well, two of the cloud’s strongest features is the security and reliability that it affords an organization. While this is a strength of the cloud, security is one of the most common reasons executives do not feel comfortable moving their data and applications to servers outside of “their control.” Most of the time, this is a case of not completely understanding the concept of how the cloud works.
Along with the element of security, the cloud also can increase the reliability of data redundancy and system uptime. It does this through the automation of backups and disaster recovery options. In simple terms, this means that an organization will not lose data and will have the ability to minimize any downtime for their staff. In the case of a disaster or technology breakdown, the cloud option can provide multiple avenues to keep an organization up and running with almost no cutover time.
In the past, physicians who used filing cabinets to store reams of patient records faced significant risk of data theft or damage. Paper records are easily lost or stolen, and could be completely destroyed by a flood, fire or another natural disaster. The lack of security surrounding these documents was a significant risk to patient safety.
Once the EMR mandate was established, health care providers could establish their own on-site data storage infrastructure, but again that would require the retention of IT staff that are knowledgeable in data security to ensure that patient data was protected.
Advantage #4 – Collaboration on Patient Care
Clients who use the same cloud network are able to easily transfer data between each other. In situations where healthcare companies need to share medical information with each other, this would be a huge advantage. The data can be shared with anybody who needs to see it, allowing for quicker collaboration to provide healthcare solutions.
The implementation of cloud storage for electronic medical records has streamlined the process of collaborative patient care. Cloud-based medical records have made it easier for doctors to collaboratively view or share a patient’s medical records. In the past, a patient might have a separate file for medical records at each doctor they visit – some records at their family doctor, some kept by a dentist, some at one specialist’s office and some at another.
Advantage #5 – Big Data & Medical Research
The widespread adoption of cloud-based data storage solutions in health care has created new opportunities for big data applications to improve patient care outcomes. With the cloud, researchers can leverage supercomputer-like analytical power on their own time, and at a fraction of the cost.
In the past, doctors all over the United States kept their patient records in paper files. There was always a huge volume of potentially useful data in patient EMRs – data that could used to predict when an epidemic might occur, to detect subtle correlations in patient illnesses that could reveal the causes of disease or to elucidate which treatment options were the most effective for a set of symptoms.
With the introduction of cloud computing, all of the data that was previously inaccessible in filing cabinets can be searched through and analyzed using the most complex computer algorithms available. This will enable health care providers to detect and respond to public health threats that would previously have been invisible until much later in their life cycle.
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