We have written a lot recently about cloud in local government and also how cloud is changing the mechanics of central government. But what about healthcare? Does it have unique challenges? There are certainly extra security issues to consider.

If you doubt that, just consider how you would feel if you were admitted to hospital for a minor operation. Obviously, the medical team need to know a bit about your medical history, such as whether you’re allergic to any medications or anaesthetics. But would you want them to have access to everything in your medical history? What about if you had once been sectioned under the Mental Health Act? So yes, there are unique security issues in healthcare.

But the healthcare community is starting to look to cloud for answers. In June, the Cloud Slam conference in Santa Clara had several sessions on healthcare. Cloud Slam markets itself as the place for all those involved in cloud technology, both users and developers, to get together and share insights. This year, it added healthcare, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals to the subject mix.

The pressures on health IT are increasing all the time, as patients and users expect more and more of it. Those who are used to banking, shopping and working online expect the same level of service from their healthcare provider, insurer and others. But regulatory requirements for security, protection of personal healthcare information and portability are also increasing. With both US and UK governments adopting a ‘Cloud First’ strategy, cloud computing solutions are looking increasingly important.

The keynote speech at the conference was given by Mark Weiner, Microsoft’s Director of Product Marketing. He talked about Microsoft’s development of a ‘hybrid cloud’ approach, which allows them to evolve their storage and operating models, and work with multiple healthcare providers.

And perhaps  it’s not surprising that Microsoft were asked to give the keynote speech. Back in March this year, they announced that they were working with several healthcare organisations to provide them with cloud-based computing. At that stage, at least, Microsoft’s Office 365 was the only major cloud business productivity solution that was compliant with the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996 (HIPAA), which is designed to protect individuals’ healthcare information.

Dell Boomi, another sponsor of the Cloud Slam conference, were also there to explain how they can help organisations to move to cloud computing. Their general manager, Chris McNabb, explained in an interview that cloud is a natural solution to data-sharing issues, and with Dell Boomi being an integration platform, it’s an obvious choice.

It’s not just the data challenges that are unique to healthcare. Healthcare information systems are generally large and complex, and often put together piecemeal over many years, which can make them quite unwieldy. There is complexity of not just information – including images, test results, notes, invoicing and cost information – but also of users, both healthcare professionals and managers.

Healthcare doesn’t really have a great record of introducing new computer systems. You have only to look at the chaos surrounding the UK government’s national patient record project to see that. So why will cloud be different? Well, for a start, it’s not a ‘big bang’, single system move. Healthcare organisations are finding that they can move just part of their system to cloud, for example, and the new bit will be interoperable with the old. Gwinnett Hospital System has used Microsoft Lync Online to enable staff to collaborate remotely without travelling, but also because it was capable of operating with its existing system. Chris McNabb reckons that the interoperability of cloud is key to meeting the new Patient Portability, Meaningful Use, and Collaborative Care mandates in the US.

And cloud is also different because systems can be small or large but still interoperable. Mihills Webb Medical, a small five-physician family practice, uses Office 365 because of its communication benefits, coupled with data security compliance. By contrast, Kindred Healthcare Inc, an organisation which provides IT and healthcare services to thousands of patients, some through mobile therapists, operates in five languages around the world. Cloud solutions have enabled both of them to improve their internal communications and collaboration systems, but with robust security.

So cloud computing has great potential in healthcare, with both security and interoperability issues being addressed all the time. And unlike many other  top-down strategies, cloud computing also has the potential to link up old and new systems, and systems from different organisations. We reckon it’s likely to be the future in healthcare across the globe.

 

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