Cloud Computing in Healthcare – What are the Benefits and Challenges?

May 24, 2019 Michela Duggan

Cloud Computing in Healthcare – What are the Benefits and Challenges?

From cutting costs to increasing efficiency, leveraging the cloud drives healthcare to integrate innovative technology to improve patient care. By implementing software like Office 365 and Salesforce, healthcare is the furthest industry along in adopting cloud technology. But what are the challenges and rewards to consider for cloud computing in healthcare?

1. Reward: Cutting costs, saving time

A major concern for patients and healthcare professionals alike is the cost of services provided – which is valid, as practically one-fifth of the entire U.S. GDP is spent on healthcare. Using cloud technology decreases the cost of data storage – instead of requiring on-site hardware or servers to back up information, it can instead be uploaded to the cloud, which reduces up-front hardware investments. The savings are significant – according to a Black Book survey on the state of healthcare IT, participants saved between 50-70% compared with storing PHI on hardware and servers or paying licensing fees.

Furthermore, cloud solutions providers handle the maintenance and administration of cloud storage. This enables healthcare providers to save time by taking those administrative tasks out of their hands and returning the focus on what they do best – providing patient care.

2. Challenge: Keeping up with changing technology

Despite the fact that healthcare is the top industry to upgrade to cloud technology, organizations experience delays when keeping up to date with digital health initiatives. According to a Unisys survey of 220 healthcare IT professionals, nearly two-thirds of providers rate themselves as being behind the curve – only 11% are early adopters.

Being prepared for changes in the digital health climate matters. Of those surveyed for the Unisys study, the earliest adopters enjoyed 70-90% patient satisfaction, improved patient outcomes, and decreased costs, while the late majority of participants experienced a 20-40% rating on the same categories. Utilizing the cloud is an excellent way to improve upon statistics like these.

3. Reward: Making organizations more interoperable

Another benefit of cloud computing in healthcare is that it promotes interoperability – the ability to exchange data seamlessly among different healthcare systems. Previously, clinicians relied on mailing or faxing paper copies of patient records. Now, the cloud offers a single access point for data, saving time and fostering interoperability.

“Right now, if you build an application at one of your hospitals, it only works at that hospital. The goal of [a cloud-based healthcare operating system] is to provide a set of tools that will allow people to build applications that will work across any number of hospital systems.” – Tal Heppenstall, president of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Enterprises

Storing PHI online provides a platform for secure data storage and access between multiple locations. The benefits of an interoperable organization include:

  • Improving the security of patient data
  • Promoting efficiency
  • Reducing wasted time while adding revenue
  • Streamlining patient care
  • Providing support for value-based care initiatives
  • Increasing patient satisfaction
  • Facilitating research

With CMS and ONC proposing rules to prohibit data blocking in healthcare in an effort to make healthcare organizations more interoperable, upgrading to cloud computing allows PHI to flow more easily and securely while complying with new healthcare regulations.

4. Challenge: Ensuring the security of PHI

Despite its ability to provide cost-effective data backups and interoperability, does storing information in the cloud put patient data at risk?

Storing ePHI in the cloud makes it accessible from multiple locations. With threats like malware, ransomware attacks, and malicious insiders, there’s a heightened need to ensure the security of sensitive data. According to the HIMSS 2019 Cybersecurity survey, 78% of healthcare organizations experienced a significant cybersecurity incident in the past 12 months — a worrisome statistic.

However, many healthcare professionals believe cloud implementation is a secure solution and the risks of human error or negligence pose a greater threat.

“Healthcare IT is understandably security-focused, but the security risk to an organization is more heightened from a lost device or stolen password than it is a cloud breach of patient information.” –  Michael Robinson, Vice President of Healthcare at Vmware

Robinson argues that trusting external cloud experts, who specialize in securing the cloud, lightens the burden of building a safe environment for storing sensitive information. In this way, healthcare professionals can continue to focus on what matters most – providing high-quality patient care.

Cloud applications like Office365 and Salesforce can also assure HIPAA compliance – under certain conditions. Since both are considered business associates, both platforms are considered HIPAA-compliant as long as the covered entity enters into a business associate agreement (BAA) with each application.

Fully adopting cloud computing in healthcare comes with challenges, but it carries the potential to cut costs while providing a secure environment for patient data with a single access point. Through cloud adoption, healthcare systems can become more interoperable and up to date with rapidly changing technology.

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