Cloud usage within the healthcare industry continues to grow. According to the 2014 HIMSS Analytics Cloud Survey, as cited by Forbes contributor Louis Columbus, 83 percent of healthcare provider organizations are using the cloud. Organizations, such as hospitals and immediate care clinics, have seen the advantages of cloud computing. Most notably, 48.2 percent said the "augmentation of technological capabilities or capacity" was the largest measure of value a cloud service provided. Like other sectors, healthcare organizations have also been the beneficiaries of reduced maintenance costs.
A popular cloud service is the infrastructure-as-a-service model. According to a 2013 Accenture study IaaS models let healthcare organizations source bandwidth, storage, processing power and even raw computing resources on an on-demand basis. This scalability allows for greater flexibility because not all organizations serve the same purpose. For example, non-urgent care centers will most likely use far less bandwidth than large hospitals.
Specifically, organizations are moving certain functions to the cloud, such as human resources matters, storage and disaster relief, health data and clinical applications. Although much of this adoption is taking place within hospitals, patients are beginning to see the benefits of cloud computing in some key areas.
Rise of personalized healthcare
Cloud computing has opened up avenues for greater patient-doctor communication than the industry has previously seen. Patients can get ahold of their doctors when need be by means of smartphone or through dedicated communication applications a hospital might build. Yet, personalized healthcare is not just about communications.
In the past, and even today, patients must sign healthcare medical record release forms that allow the patient to bring records to another facility or doctor. These forms are commonly distributed when a patient may need to see a specialist. But is it possible the cloud can eliminate this process? Yes, and some companies are already doing so.
Accenture's report said cloud computing can allow patients to digitize their entire medical history. This can include important information such as blood types, allergies, X-Ray or CT scan images and other electronic medical records. The cloud can grant this information to be available almost instantly.
For example, Apple has been placing a large emphasis on health with its newest mobile devices. These smartphones are built with technology that monitors how active a user is. Another feature lets users input important health information into an identification card. If an accident were to occur, emergency responders would be able to swipe the phone's home screen to reveal this information.
Further, apps are being released where users can participate in medical studies and understand medical conditions even better. The Massachusetts General Hospital created an app for those with diabetes, letting them see how food and activity correlate to glucose levels. Researchers can then use this information to discover more information.
The Accenture report also said the cloud can help shift patient care from hospitals and immediate care centers to houses. Approximately 80 percent of U.S. healthcare costs are due to chronic illness. Already, Qualcomm Life offers an in-home cloud-based, wireless service to help those with chronic illness. Patients are able to learn how to properly manage their illness and easily share information, all through the cloud. Patients will get immediate care, but also save on expensive hospital trips.
The rise of personalized healthcare is, in some regards, exciting. The possibility exists for people to instantly bring up their entire history. The days of forgetting what medications are being taken or prior treatments can be in the past.
Reducing or eliminating errors
According to a July 2014 U.S. Senate report, medical errors accounted for the third highest cause of death, after heart disease and cancer, respectively. Approximately 400,000 citizens die each year due to errors, according to the report. Financially, these errors cost the U.S. $1 trillion per year, a 2012 National Center for Biotechnology Information study revealed.
"The tragedy that we're talking about here (is) deaths taking place that should not be taking place," said Sen. Bernard Sanders at the July hearing, according to HealthCare IT News.
Darin Brannan, CEO of ClearDATA, believes cloud computing can help reduce these errors. For example, nurses said the way medical systems exchange data can often lead to errors. A cloud service can help medical facilities create integrated infrastructure, reducing the likelihood of errors occurring when data is transmitted across the network, Brannan said.
Artificial intelligence is also another sector Brannan cited as helping to reduce future medical errors. Essentially, electronic medical records stored in the cloud can be read by artificial intelligences systems. Local doctors may benefit the most, as the immediate, advanced knowledge can help them treat health issues typically identified by higher skilled or more specialized doctors.
Cloud computing has dramatically changed how the healthcare industry is operating. Patients and doctors now have easier access to records and data. Personalized treatments through technology and apps are effective. The cloud is quickly changing the healthcare industry for the better.