This article aims to discuss aspects of cloud computing that are relevant to the healthcare industry and can be applied by doctors to improve their practice.
What Should Doctors Know About Cloud Computing?
There is a sea of information available on the internet about cloud computing and how it works. As a doctor with limited interest in information technology, understanding all that jargon (most of which may not even be directly related to your work and computing requirements) can be quite intimidating and time consuming.
Simply put, the cloud is a set of hardware, networks, storage, services and interfaces that are equipped to provide computing power, infrastructure, applications, software, business processes and storage – in short, all your computing needs, as a service wherever and whenever you need it.
Migrating to the cloud 'can' help you reduce cost, space, time and power that would otherwise be utilized for traditional IT services performing the same functions. This is possible because the cloud puts together a large pool of computing resources available to be used as an assured service by anyone who wishes to use it, anywhere in the world. Traditional IT environments on the other hand, have a limited set of resources that are independently managed and delivered to a limited number of people confined to a certain geographic location, thus pushing cost, time, space and power factors.
Using Cloud Computing To Improve Your Practice
Cloud computing can transform the way healthcare is practiced by empowering professionals to deliver better care at lower costs. Cloud computing allows doctors, researchers and scientists across the globe to collaborate and form a centralized, integrated and regularly updated medical database that can be seamlessly accessed by healthcare professionals without having to invest in over-the-top infrastructure or software. Doctors can use the cloud for viewing reports, scans, EMRs, prescriptions and information required to solve complex medical problems anywhere in the world.
Patients’ health data and EMRs can be combined to form a single, comprehensive health record that can be instantly accessed from one single source. The cloud also brings together patient information like insurance claims, prescription and drug details, lab reports, patient history and progress in cases of chronic illnesses and other details and consolidates them to be available at the point of care whenever required.
This not only helps improve the level of accuracy with which care is delivered but also reduces the time and cost of treatment for physicians and patients alike. As all data is sourced from a single, homogenous center, it also brings down the possibility of conflicting treatments, prescriptions and medical data miscommunication in cases where multiple physicians and providers are involved.
Cloud computing is typically subscription based. In many cases, it works on a metered billing model of payment where you pay only for what you use. It also allows for flexible self-service by which you can enable and disable the provision of required services depending on your usage and needs.
Cloud computing users need not invest in heavy capital expenditure on hardware, software, and services. As resources can be unsubscribed whenever required, the risk of investment is considerably reduced. The cloud also addresses increased data storage needs of physicians without having them spend on expensive personal storage devices. Software updates and innovation are centrally managed by cloud service providers, helping doctors focus the best part of their day on patient care.
Cloud computing can thus help physicians meet meaningful use criteria as it demonstrates better quality of care, lower costs and higher insurance/government reimbursements.
Popular Cloud Services
Most of us have “been on the cloud” without even knowing about it (eg: Facebook is an example of a public cloud). Depending on the visibility of data there are three types of cloud platforms: Public, private and hybrid (a combination of public and private).
A more popular classification is based on the services offered:
1. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offers hardware related services like disk storage, database or virtual servers. Amazon Web Services (AWS),Rackspace Cloud Servers and Flexiscale are popular IaaS providers.
2. Platform as a Service (PaaS) offers development platforms. Google’s Application Engine, Microsofts Azure, Salesforce.com’s force.com are well-knows in this category.
3. Software as service (SaaS) involves software services on the cloud like web based software applications, email services and so on. Popular examples of SaaS services are Salesforce.com (CRM), Google’s Gmail, Google Apps, Dropbox, Zoho, QuickBooks, Piwik, Microsoft Hotmail and their online version of office called BPOS (Business Productivity Online Standard Suite).
A good read on top cloud platforms at http://www.liventerprise.com/news/3608/.
Cloud security and data ownership is a major concern for users and new adopters of cloud computing. As there is very little regulation currently pertaining to cloud computing, there are many data privacy and security issues to be dealt with. New users must be informed about details on who owns the data, third parties that may gain access to the data and the jurisdiction of the contract. We will look at Cloud Security in detail via a separate article.