Saturday, 31 January 2015

Advantage & Disadvantage of Cloud Computing in Healthcare Business.

Introduction:
Technological advancements that have been observed in most industry segments are hardly visible in healthcare / medical segments.  Rather it can be said that technology in healthcare sector has been underutilized. Paper based medical records and handwritten notes are still being used by business owners to inform and make decisions. The same can be said for processes such as consultation, revenue and inventory management. Digitized information, if any is stored between departments and applications, which make access to patients’ health records and day to day operational procedures complicated and time consuming. At the same time, the overall healthcare environment is undergoing a rapid transformation owing to a rising need for providing highest quality medical services that are economically viable. Hence, it is high time for business owners to switch over from paper based workflows and embrace new technologies in order to improve their operational efficiency and quality of patient care.
Amongst the many technologies available in the market today, one that holds the most potential to improve the way healthcare is delivered and impacting all stakeholders’ viz., doctors, patients, insurance companies and government bodies equally is CLOUD COMPUTING.

What is Cloud Computing?
In layman’s terms cloud computing can be described as services that are hosted over the internet. Cloud is basically a mix of software, data & intelligence all easily accessible and managed on the World Wide Web. It facilitates stakeholders to securely access information that is updated from time to time.
Cloud computing represents the biggest potential change to the healthcare industry since the computer. Utilizing healthcare business software through cloud technology facilitates business owners to focus their efforts on clinically relevant services and enhanced patient outcomes. What it means is; it would enable seamless access and management of patient care and information through automation and streamlining of workflows. Summing it in short, it would create an integrated healthcare ecosystem that would ultimately aid business owners to go beyond traditional methods of business management. Moreover, it also eliminates the burden of infrastructure management by providing easy access to software, while driving down costs and simplifying technology adoption.
Why Cloud Computing?

One of the key focuses of business owners today is to provide patient-centric services. Since we are living in the information age, patients expect more from business owners in terms of technology. This has led to an increasing requirement from patients to have their medical information at their fingertips. Their logic being that while internet has simplified everything else in their lives why not healthcare? for eg: gone are the days when people needed to go shopping physically, it is now very easily done from the confines of their homes or while on the move using smart phones. Cloud based electronic medical record software can do just that by enabling patients to access their medical information at their convenience. 

Similarly, business owners can consult with their peers in case of doubt using customized healthcare business software to exchange medical records of patients’, irrespective of their location using cloud technology. The same holds true for other aspects associated with day to day functioning of healthcare organizations such as consultation, revenue and inventory management etc.
Simply said, opting to utilize cloud based healthcare business software can drastically simplify these procedures while offering business owners a tremendous opportunity to enhance the quality of their services and improve operational efficiency.

Advantages of Healthcare Business Software on Cloud:
For any new technology to be accepted by business owners it must offer some benefits. Evidently, health care business software on cloud offers several advantages over traditional models that would eventually improve operational efficiency of a healthcare organization. Some such key yet basic benefits are:-
  
·        Easy access to medical records: In a traditional model, patients are required to maintain their own records. All medical information is handed over to patients who are expected to carry the records with them during their next visit. In such circumstances it is quite possible that patients may misplace the records or forget to carry them during their next visit. Such scenarios can be entirely avoided if business owners deploy cloud based healthcare business software. Cloud based electronic health record software eliminates the need for paper based information making it easier for patients as well as business owners.

·     Collaboration: Time and again business owners may need to collaborate with each other to reach a correct diagnosis or outline the right treatment plan for a specific patient. If at all such situation arises, it is quite likely that collaborators are not in the same location so sharing of information becomes a hindrance. Cloud based business software can overcome this hurdle as information can be synchronized and shared amongst multiple collaborators in real time.

  •   Speed: Information exchange through business applications delivered using cloud technology  is comparatively faster than traditional methods of information sharing viz., paper based  information wherein information exchange can cause sizable delays or information sharing  through email which can be delayed owing to heavy internet traffic. 


Cloud Computing Challenges:

In spite of the array of advantages offered by cloud computing technology, there have been very few takers. This lack of initiative on the part of healthcare service providers is not out of ignorance but largely due to challenges associated with adopting cloud computing. As with any new technology cloud computing too, presents its share of challenges which needs to be overcome before it can be successfully adopted & implemented within existing systems. Challenges in cloud computing can be classified into two categories viz., technical challenges and non-technical challenges. 
Technical challenges include 1. Security & Data Privacy, 2. Data Portability& Integrity. While data ownership & legislative parameters construe non-technical challenges associated with adopting cloud computing in healthcare. Hence, it is essential to tackle these challenges before healthcare providers can full-fledgedly adopt cloud computing within their business processes. Let us now get into how technical & non-technical challenges are affecting adoption of cloud computing in healthcare.

Technical Challenges:

·        Security & Data Privacy:
In the present scenario, exchange of data is a matter of great concern from a security stand point, primarily owing to large amount of data available with healthcare service providers. This automatically makes migration of data from traditional systems to a cloud model very complex. Therefore, in order to avoid exposing data to third parties during transition from traditional models to cloud, robust security measures are required. This is a deterrent which hampers adoption of cloud computing amongst healthcare service providers. To facilitate trustworthiness of cloud systems this hurdle needs to be overcome. Though most cloud service providers today are committed towards developing best practice policies in order to secure customer data and ensure utmost privacy, healthcare service providers are yet to be convinced about the veracity of their claims.

·        Data Portability & Integrity:
Apart from security & data privacy, another challenge faced by healthcare service providers when it comes to adopting cloud computing technologies is data portability & integrity. In a conventional setup, healthcare service providers have exclusive control over their data and services. On the contrary, in a cloud model they would be dependent on the cloud service provider for easy and unfettered access to their clinical data and services. In case a cloud service provider for some obtuse reason suspends their services abruptly without warning, services of a healthcare organization would come to a standstill. Similarly, healthcare service providers are also quite apprehensive about the capability of cloud service providers in facilitating data exchange to another service provider without disrupting existing services. A cloud service that does not have a provision that supports transfer to other vendors is a major drawback.

Non-Technical Challenges:

·        Data Ownership:
    At present there are no specific guidelines pertaining to data ownership in the healthcare industry. For instance, patients can claim proprietary rights to their own medical records but since a medical practitioner has helped create those records is he not entitled to have ownership rights on those records? Same is the case with a patient’s insurance service provider, they too can claim ownership and use those records as they may deem fit. This brings us to the next non-technical challenge i.e., legislative parameters or guidelines that outline ownership boundaries.

·        Legislative Parameters:
   As of now there is clearly a lack of comprehensive legislative parameter that largely addresses the myriad issues associated while adopting cloud computing in healthcare industry. In the absence of any guidelines, conflicts related to data ownership, standards for medical informatics & data exchanges may arise. Needless to say this shortage may even spawn social and ethical concerns. 

As security & data privacy, data portability & integrity form the crux of technical challenges, lack of legislative parameters figures high in non-technical challenges. In short, these are some of the challenges that hinder the adoption of cloud computing in the healthcare segment. 

Conclusion:
Since the pros of cloud computing outweighs the cons, it becomes necessary that the healthcare industry too catches up with other industries that are growing leaps and bounds, riding on the back of cloud technology. Therefore, the need of the hour is for business owners to adopt healthcare business software driven by cloud technology which would allow them to accelerate their ability to tackle critical day to day functional challenges, bring about a radical change in their business models and provide patient-centric services while minimizing costs.