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We will look back to 2020 as a pivotal moment for the use of cloud computing in healthcare. As the pandemic removed old constraints, digital health innovators stormed in. In the face of a major crisis, providers and technologists worked tirelessly to improve healthcare and drive change to save lives. Innovation and entrepreneurship are not without risk, but they can also offer enormous benefits. Collecting and sharing data via the cloud enables a healthcare system that is fit for the 21st century.
This kind of change doesn't happen overnight. The banking industry, for example, is benefiting from a comprehensive digital transformation that was driven forward over the past decade by the introduction of clouds. So far, healthcare providers have been reluctant to tackle the same type of IT modernization. Concerns about security, regulatory compliance, and possible downtime in handling the most sensitive personal information in life and death situations are legitimate but can all be addressed. Secure and reliable virtual access to healthcare professionals and data has become a key issue for us in order to meet our challenges and goals of the 21st century.
The case for cloud
Easy access to and sharing of data is an essential foundation for building a healthcare system that meets today's on-demand needs. Hybrid cloud delivery for healthcare providers is expected to reach only 37% this year, up from 19% in 2019. Most hospitals still rely on outdated software systems that have been repeatedly patched. Building on shaky foundations like this one leads to great inefficiency and common mistakes. Healthcare professionals lose a lot of time that could better be spent caring for patients in these inflexible and unreliable systems.
The cloud offers unparalleled scaling, data integration and access benefits. Doctors who have access to complete information about a patient's electronic health record (EHR), prescriptions, test results, and imaging are better equipped to help make the correct diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment. Data-driven decisions based on vast sets of information can help healthcare professionals and researchers identify patterns, gain insight, and ensure higher standards of care.
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Remote access and communication open up many possibilities and enable greater patient safety. Virtual appointments and consultations allow people to speak to health professionals from the comfort of their homes. This is beneficial for patients who have difficulty traveling while reducing traffic in hospitals and clinics. Fewer people in a facility mean better infection control. If doctors want an expert opinion, they can share patient data and discuss it online with specialists. Patients also benefit from better access to their own data, which provides transparency and reduces the need for calls and visits.
Obsolete and inefficient practices such as burning images to CD to physically send to a doctor or requiring a radiologist to come to a hospital to read a scan can easily be eliminated through cloud systems. The introduction of the cloud also offers cost advantages. Radiology departments can reduce storage costs while making imaging sharing easier. The economies of scale offered by the cloud mark a moment (long overdue in healthcare) when innovation is becoming a niche for smart entrepreneurs.
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Security and compliance issues
While the idea of making information accessible anywhere, anytime has obvious advantages, there are obstacles to overcome. Potential security risks and regulatory compliance concerns have long slowed the adoption of clouds in healthcare. IT staff must ensure timely software updates, maintain network availability, and set up a regular and robust backup routine.
Healthcare organizations also need to consider how third-party data is processed, investigate who their cloud partners are doing business with, and ensure that security standards are extended to any cloud networks they use. Cloud providers with healthcare experience and an understanding of the unique compliance landscape are preferred when the industry is facing these challenges. Everyone should be comforted by the fact that after much deliberation and careful consideration, the world's most progressive healthcare organizations have announced major cloud initiatives. The announcement of Mayo Clinic's partnership with Google is an example of this.
Converging cloud trends
The dream of global collaboration is based on cloud computing. Healthcare professionals in different countries can now easily trade massive datasets. While such collaboration was typically reserved for esoteric research projects, it is now used to address global health problems. We know that this type of collaboration is an acceleration that can spark breakthroughs for entrepreneurship to emerge.
We are now collecting more patient information than ever before. New devices connected to the network, such as handheld ultrasound scanners, offer new ways to collect data that can help a healthcare professional make better decisions later. With increasing interoperability of systems and collaboration, portals can offer a wealth of valuable data for doctors.
Related: 4 Cloud Services That Store A Lot More Than Just Data
Consolidating patient data paves the way for AI algorithms to highlight key trends and insights. Research platforms integrated into clinical applications can spark new approaches and ideas, promote innovations and innovative startups across the healthcare industry, while leading to better outcomes for patients.
Cloud growth is inevitable
The immediate challenges of interoperability are overcome by a deeper cloud rollout. Cloud computing makes data accessible, easier to find and collect, and much easier to share.
If the newfound willingness to collaborate is to persist as the pandemic fades and systems meet safety requirements and regulations, the healthcare industry and savvy entrepreneurs must learn how to innovate quickly while being aware of all of these different moving parts.
Despite the challenges, cloud computing promises too many benefits to patients, doctors, startups, and the healthcare industry at large to ignore, and last year could go down in history as the year that proved it.