Top 15 Benefits of Cloud Computing in Healthcare

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Cloudticity, L.L.C.

Cloud computing in healthcare has exploded in recent years, with expected growth from 28.1 billion in 2020 to USD 64.7 billion by 2025. Most hospital CIOs are well aware of the cost saving benefits of cloud architectures and are looking beyond economics to target strategic business outcomes as drivers for moving their on-premise data centers to public clouds, like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.

In a recent survey, respondents said their primary motives for adopting cloud architectures are to get greater control of their IT resources (58%), gain the flexibility to meet dynamic business requirements (55%), and improve support for customers and remote workers (46% respectively). By contrast, just 27% mentioned cutting costs as a driver (see figure 1).

Figure 1

Despite the known advantages, Gartner predicts that only 30% of hospital data centers will be based in the cloud by 2022. To help healthcare providers, payers, and business associates better understand the value of cloud-based infrastructure, we’ve outlined the top 8 benefits of cloud computing in healthcare.

1. Public cloud computing in Healthcare lets you pay by usage and reduce costs

With on-premise infrastructure your capabilities are limited by your IT capacity. If your healthcare business is growing and you need to allocate more storage you must estimate how much will be needed, buy and procure new servers, then rack, stack and configure them – a process that can take several months. If you underestimate how much capacity you need you risk not being able to serve your customers or support business operations. If you overestimate, you’re left paying for capacity you’re not using. It’s a constant balancing act.

With cloud infrastructure you only pay for what you use and avoid the need to invest in capital equipment. You can stop guessing and align operating costs directly with demand. Then, in the event of an unforeseen circumstance, you’ll be able to meet the needs of your business and then scale capacity down when the event is over without adding extra baggage to your IT bill.

2. Cloud computing helps accelerate your health care facility's digital transformation.

Digital transformation is the process of taking advantage of new technologies to develop and refine business operations as well as relationships with customers, employees, and business partners. A healthcare facility’s digital transformation should be focused on enhancing the patient experience and streamlining internal procedures to improve productivity and reduce costs. This transformation usually involves making major changes to an organization’s legacy systems and workloads.

Cloud computing facilitates digital transformation by providing access to cutting-edge technologies, offering remote access to data assets, and allowing clients to capitalize on the cloud provider’s technical resources. The agility and flexibility of the public cloud make it a more suitable platform for digital transformation than traditional on-premises infrastructures. Through cloud offerings and services, health care facilities can implement new procedures without extensive capital expenditures

3. Public cloud computing makes it easy to keep up with computing technology. 

In an on-premises model, it can be prohibitively costly to keep up with technology advances. Organizations typically replace on-premises servers every three to five years — an eternity in the fast-paced world of computing technology. When you own the technology, you are always playing catch-up. 

Cloud service providers (CSPs) take the opposite approach. They adopt new technologies as they are introduced and quickly make them available to their customers as a competitive differentiator. Therefore, cloud users can access new technologies soon after they are introduced. For the CSP, keeping up with technology is part of their business model.

4. Public cloud computing is more secure than on-premises data centers. 

When you own your data center and hardware, you are responsible for security from end to end. You’re responsible for physical premises security, from identity and access management on your servers to securing your software infrastructure while also securing your own applications and data.

In the public cloud, security is a shared responsibility between you and your CSP. The CSP secures the hardware and software that powers the cloud and, in most cases, the operating system too. You secure your applications and data that are stored in the cloud. This partitioning makes sense because each party is responsible for securing the part that they own and over which they have control.

Is the public cloud secure? Absolutely, and it’s not hard to see why. Cloud providers have the most experience with sophisticated attacks and can attract top security talent. Most importantly, your public cloud provider has a lot at stake — a single high-publicity data breach can cost the provider millions in lost revenue and damages, not to mention the significant reputation hit.

5. Public cloud computing improves electronic record keeping

Cloud storage improves how electronic health records (EHRs) are stored, processed, and protected in a variety of ways. Healthcare facilities that choose to use the public cloud for their EHR deployments gain multiple benefits, including:

  • Cost savings - Cloud solutions offer reduced hardware, software, installation, and maintenance costs compared to legacy, on-premises systems. 
  • Security and privacy - Organizations using the public cloud saw a 69% reduction in security incidents.
  • Interoperability - Cloud services are designed with interoperability in mind to facilitate the efficient exchange of information between EHR systems and devices.
  • Platform independence - Cloud-based EHRs are accessible from virtually any computing platform, eliminating the need to standardize on a specific operating system or device type. 
  • Resiliency - EHRs can be backed up to alternate cloud sites for enhanced protection against disasters or unexpected outages. 

6. Public cloud scales better with essentially infinite resources. 

That situation has a close parallel in the data center, as many telemedicine providers and healthcare organizations recently discovered to their dismay. When Covid-19 drove up demand for remote video visits exponentially in just days, companies with on-premises data centers didn’t have enough time to buy and install new equipment to meet the increased demand. Unfortunately, performance often worsened to the point where it degraded the patient and provider experiences and damaged the brand.

The Covid-19 experience was completely different for those providers who had their applications and data in the public cloud. These forward-looking organizations were able to scale in minutes by taking advantage of the provider’s vast reserves of computing power and storage facilities. As a result, these companies suffered little or no degradation in application performance and continued to deliver services as before. The takeaway is that the cloud scales much better than on-premises data centers.

7. Public cloud drives improvements in the patient experience. 

More than ever before, patients and staff expect providers to take advantage of technology to streamline care processes and improve outcomes. Providers are working to improve the patient and staff experience with advanced technologies such as natural language interactions, 5G-based mobile apps, sophisticated analytics, and artificial intelligence and machine learning. Use cases range from reducing ER wait times, improving in-patient care, and providing at-home monitoring solutions. 

Access to patient information is a key element in creating a positive patient experience. Patients have a right to view their healthcare information, but fulfilling that obligation can be a drain on hospitals and clinics. Self-service portals can greatly streamline the process while ensuring tight security for PHI.

8. Public cloud enables patient safety

Many public cloud solutions contribute to improved patient safety. Following are some of the most impactful ways patient safety is enhanced by cloud computing.

  • Maintaining EHRs in the cloud enables healthcare providers to diagnose and treat patients using accurate and updated, real-time information. 
  • Remote patient monitoring is made possible by the combination of cloud computing and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. This type of monitoring can promptly address changes in a patient’s condition, alert staff members to falls, and help avoid missed medications. 
  • Storing EHRs in the cloud strengthens security and protects patient info from hackers and ensures that data can be recovered following a disaster. It also ensures the data will be available even in the event of a natural disaster like a flood or hurricane.
  • Rural physicians can access medical information and consult with specialists using cloud computing resources, allowing them to better serve their patients and keep them safe.
  • Healthcare information designed to improve health and safety can be made available directly to patients through cloud-based portals and websites. 

9. Public cloud makes communication between doctors and specialists more efficient.

Storing patient data and EHRs in the public cloud makes it accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Doctors and specialists can communicate in real-time using updated information which enables them to make better decisions regarding patient care. The ability to access cloud data resources with personal mobile devices facilitates communication and can lead to improved patient outcomes. 

As a patient’s data gets entered into the system and electronic records are modified, the changes are instantly available to all healthcare providers. Cloud-based interfaces ensure that all participants are seeing the data in the same way when reviewing it and collaborating on treatment options.  

10. Cloud computing enhances devices and systems interoperability

A major roadblock to efficiently sharing data resources is the lack of compatibility between disparate systems and devices. The inability to access data promptly can be very frustrating and lead to degraded patient care. Cloud computing can help healthcare providers minimize or eliminate incompatibility problems by promoting systems that are built with interoperability in mind.

A major benefit of cloud computing is the way data is stored in centralized locations and made available to anyone with a network connection to the system. Cloud solutions are built using application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable data resources to be accessed through many different types of devices. Migrating from legacy systems to a cloud solution will go a long way toward improving the interoperability of the systems and devices at a healthcare facility.

11. Public cloud makes developers more productive. 

Developers often need to create specialized environments to test their software code. In an on-premises data center, this process involves the IT department, which can take days or weeks. In the public cloud, developers can spin up a new environment in just minutes using the provider’s self-service portal, perform their tests, and easily tear down the environment. Public cloud not only speeds up the development process but also enables developers to try lots of alternatives quickly, leading to innovative products. 

Major CSPs offer hundreds of cloud products that can aid software development. Developers can use these off-the-shelf modules instead of coding from scratch, shortening time to value and improving the quality of applications. This service is particularly helpful in adopting new technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics.

For example, suppose your organization wants to develop a self-service system to allow patients to access their EHR information without human intervention. Such an endeavor can seem daunting to developers who may not be familiar with technologies such as voice recognition, automated conversations, and semantics parsing. However, all of these functions are readily available from major cloud providers, which greatly simplifies the developer’s task.

Figure 2.

  1. Most technologically innovative U.S. hospitals by percentage of budget dedicated to IT2

12. Public cloud helps you unlock the insights hidden in your vast volumes of data and make data-driven decisions.

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations have mountains of data on their patients, from EHRs and clinical records to billing and appointment histories. In principle, this information can be analyzed to build a comprehensive picture of each patient to improve care delivery and foster loyalty. However, before you can analyze the data, you have to find it. Patient information is often stored in different systems or silos, which makes it hard to work with in a coherent way. 

Data lakes are one promising answer to this problem. Why lakes? Because a number of information streams flow into this single unified repository. Data lakes aren’t new, however, building them in the cloud has advantages such as unlimited storage, global access, reliable performance, and platform security. Data lakes automatically standard incoming data using machine learning techniques, which greatly facilitates analytics. 

A data lake helps you combine data from the range of applications in a healthcare environment and open up a new world of insights into your organization. Patient falls can be researched by combining medical histories with building maintenance logs. Supply usage can be optimized using invoices and inventory reports. Patient populations can be studied and combined with organizational and environmental data to inform public health initiatives. The more you know, the more you can accomplish. The cloud can help educate you.

13. Public cloud takes away the hassle of managing IT infrastructure.

If your hospital hosts an on-premises data center, you’re in the information technology (IT) infrastructure business. And you’d better be good at it, because critical aspects of patient care and staff safety depend on the IT infrastructure operating smoothly around the clock, every day of the year. Managing IT infrastructure for healthcare organizations is strictly for experts — don’t try this at home.

Hospitals with on-premise data centers are forced to devote scarce resources such as capital investment, technical staff, and executive oversight to decidedly not healthcare-related initiatives such as upgrading servers and maintaining a disaster recovery site. For most healthcare executives, IT is neither their passion nor their training. They want to focus on issues such as improving clinical outcomes and delivering healthcare to populations — not IT infrastructure (see below).

Figure 3. Advantages of cloud over on-premises, survey results

14. Cloud computing allows no build disaster recovery solutions

HIPAA requires healthcare facilities to develop and implement a recovery solution to protect and maintain the accessibility of ePHI in the event of extended outages caused by natural or human-initiated disasters. The goal of regaining access to patient data as soon as possible can be accomplished with traditional IT backup and recovery procedures. The cloud offers a more flexible and cost-efficient method of recovering a healthcare company’s computing infrastructure after a disaster.

A cloud-based disaster recovery solution provides multiple benefits over a more traditional approach.

  • Flexibility and scalability - Cloud-based disaster recovery resources can be easily scaled to address changing business requirements. Data can be restored using cloud resources or any network-connected location.
  • Simplified testing for enhanced reliability - Cloud resources are always available for testing so organizations can optimize their recovery procedures to ensure they work when needed most.
  • Cost-effectiveness - Taking advantage of the cloud’s pay-as-you-go approach is more cost-effective than provisioning resources that may not be needed to perform the recovery.
  • Easy deployment - Healthcare facilities with limited resources can take advantage of the expertise and experience of their cloud provider. A viable disaster recovery solution can be put in place with minimal investment in time, hardware, or human resources.

15. How to Choose the Right Platform for your Healthcare Cloud Computing

It can be challenging to choose the right cloud computing platform for your healthcare systems. Not all clouds are the same, and choosing the wrong solution can put your patients’ sensitive data and your organization’s future at risk. A private cloud may be the solution if your organization has the resources to build it. 

In many cases, this is not feasible and organizations are left to choose from public cloud offerings. The major cloud providers like AWS and Azure offer HIPAA-compliant solutions that address the needs of healthcare organizations. 

Following are some of the main factors to keep in mind when selecting a public cloud solution.

  • HIPAA-compliant infrastructure - The cloud provider should offer HIPAA-compliant hosting services that have the necessary policies and procedures in place to ensure the security of all systems and data that contain ePHI. Security is paramount and all data must be encrypted throughout its lifecycle. Systems must be maintained by the vendor with security patches installed as soon as they become available. 
  • Compliance concerns - Public cloud providers must be willing to enter into a Business Associate Agreement that defines their roles and responsibilities in protecting ePHI. They need to demonstrate that their systems are auditable and that they can provide a risk assessment if requested by auditors. 
  • Backups and business continuity - The cloud vendor should provide managed backups and a viable business continuity and disaster recovery plan to maintain the safety and accessibility of ePHI. 
  • Service Level Agreements - The availability of ePHI is a major tenet of the HIPAA standards and needs to be addressed with a prospective cloud vendor. SLAs should be obtained that guarantee close to 100% uptime for systems storing ePHI.

Bottom Line

Your organization likely chose on-premise because there were no plausible alternatives at the time. Now you have options, so it makes sense to take a second look. Transitioning key parts of your operations from the data center to the cloud not only saves money and improves operations but it does more. It frees healthcare executives to focus on what they’re good at — delivering services in the most effective and efficient way possible.

What's more, these benefits accrue overtime as your enterprise reaches higher levels of cloud maturity. To learn more about how your organization can benefit from cloud computing in healthcare, download the free white paper, The Cloud Journey to Business Value in Healthcare.


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