Initially, the idea of using the cloud for healthcare was considered a non-starter. There were simply too many concerns around security and privacy. At the time, these were perfectly valid. Time, however, moves on. Not only is it considered acceptable to use the cloud for healthcare, but there are also many advantages to doing so. Here is what you need to know.
Like many sectors, the healthcare sector has changed significantly in recent decades. In particular, it has become much more aware of the importance of data and data analysis. This now applies at every level of healthcare from the macro (e.g. policymaking) to the micro (e.g. patient diagnosis, treatment, and care).
Furthermore, there is an increasing need to share data. Again, this applies at both the macro and micro levels. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, all entities involved in healthcare were actively sharing data in an attempt to get ahead of the virus. Similarly, parties involved in patient care will often need to share data with each other.
In fact, they may need to share data at high speed and/or during unsocial hours. For example, a patient could have a medical emergency far away from their home country. This could prompt an urgent request for access at a time when few people are working.
All of these reasons (and many more) have prompted the healthcare sector not just to move to digital records but to embrace the cloud for healthcare and leverage the benefits it offers.
The considerations when using the cloud for healthcare are much the same as the considerations for using the cloud for anything else. Here is a quick rundown of the main ones.
Security concerns were the main reason the healthcare sector stayed so far behind the technological curve for so long.
At first, paper records were perceived as clearly safer than digital ones. Then, when digital records were adopted, on-premises infrastructure was perceived as clearly safer than cloud infrastructure. Then when the cloud did start to be adopted private clouds were perceived as clearly safer than public clouds.
In fairness, many of these concerns were initially valid, at least in a medical environment. For example, some of the concern over the use of digital records was based on concerns about the accurate reproduction of images. These often play a crucial role in healthcare.
As it currently stands, however, all of these security concerns have been addressed (or at least they can be). It’s now possible to use even a public cloud for healthcare. You simply need to ensure that the cloud service provider meets any relevant compliance programs (e.g. FedRAMP, HIPAA, PCI).
In many ways, this is an offshoot of security. In the context of healthcare, however, it’s important enough to be worth mentioning on its own. Any issues with data have the potential to lead to a malpractice lawsuit. For example, if data is corrupted, it may lead to records becoming unusable and/or to clinical errors.
Understandably, the healthcare sector is extremely sensitive to this. Healthcare providers will therefore typically only work with cloud service providers who can provide the level of liability protection they need.
Cost is a factor in healthcare as it is for all other sectors. In the context of the cloud for healthcare, there are three main factors to consider.
The easiest way to minimize upfront costs is to use the public cloud. With the public cloud, it’s highly unlikely that there will be any upfront costs to using the cloud itself. There may be upfront costs involved in setting up the relevant management infrastructure. That, however, will be the case for any new form of IT infrastructure.
It may be possible to set up a private cloud without any upfront costs by using a private cloud package from a cloud service provider. If, however, you opt to set up your own infrastructure then there will be some level of upfront costs. These can, however, be kept to a minimum using colocation.
With any form of the cloud for healthcare, the issue is less likely to be the running costs themselves as the transparency of those costs.
In the public cloud, you pay for exactly what you use. As a result, understanding your costs means understanding your usage (and vice versa). When you’re dealing with complex systems (as is often the case in healthcare), this can often be much easier said than done.
At first glance, this may seem like an argument for sticking with the private cloud for healthcare. The counterargument to this, however, is that the public cloud can work out more cost-effective overall.
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