Healthcare in the Digital Age

8 Dec 2014 by Technology

"Healthcare in the Digital Age: Cloud & Virtualization Strategy

According to a leading marketing research firm, cloud-computing in healthcare is projected to grow at a compound rate of 20.5 percent per annum through 2017. There are a growing number of healthcare startups that are utilizing cloud-computing to provide a variety of services related to acute healthcare, ambulatory healthcare, clinical management, and physician solutions. Some of the traditional well-established healthcare companies are playing a catch up game to come up to speed on this aspect.

What is Cloud-Computing?

Cloud-computing refers to providing hosted services on the Internet. There are three types of clouds in cloud-computing'”private, public, and hybrid. In case of a private-cloud, the services are provided on a data center or a proprietary network. In case of a public-cloud, the services are available to anyone on the Internet. One can also choose to restrict the public-cloud to create a virtual private-cloud. Hybrid-clouds, on the other hand, use public-cloud for part of the operations and private-cloud for the remaining.

There are three types of cloud-computing services'”Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). IaaS generally refers to providing infrastructure services, such as operating systems, network, servers, and storage. PaaS refers to tools and services that will be used for deploying the end user applications. Some examples of PaaS include databases, application servers, and messaging systems. SaaS, on the other hand, refers to the applications that are designed for the end users, who can access these services over the web. SaaS can also include web application programming interfaces (API) that can be utilized by other service providers to build their own user interface.

What is Virtualization?

Virtualization, as the name implies, creates a virtual version of a resource. It can refer to a network, storage, operating system, or even a server. Using this technology, a single physical resource can be divided into multiple execution environments to maximize the usage so that more users can access a resource concurrently. It has long proven to be a great cost saving option for the companies, and healthcare sector is now playing a catch up game with this technology.

Role of Cloud-Computing in Healthcare

Healthcare industries are increasingly looking towards cloud-computing and virtualization to cut down the costs by maximizing the hardware utilization and minimizing the power and people costs. The government has taken a key step in this regard with its Affordable Care Act (ACA) legislation by mandating Electronic Health Records (EHR) in order to reduce the paperwork and administrative costs. However, a lot of work still needs to be done in this area though as the healthcare companies are ill-equipped to handle the necessary infrastructure to support EHRs. According to a report, 96 percent of the Health IT leaders say that they are not yet ready for this migration due to lack of infrastructure.

Medical Imaging is another potential area for cloud-computing. The ability to securely store medical images such as CT scans and chest images is very crucial for medical imaging companies. Using the distributed cloud storage facilities for storing the images, these companies can provide better search and access options, helping to increase customer satisfaction. The elastic cloud storage and scaling capabilities of a cloud can help to securely store a large number of images with ease. The built in cloud-backup facilities can also help to alleviate the concerns with any data loss that is common in the traditional local storage facilities.

Acute and ambulatory healthcare systems can benefit by using the cloud-computing strategy. There is a huge potential to cut down the administrative and paperwork costs and improving the quality of service by storing patient admission, discharge, claim, reimbursement, and collection records in the cloud.

Privacy and Security

While there are many benefits, one needs to be careful about the security and privacy aspects. The government has enforced stricter compliance rules for patient safety with its HIPAA privacy rules, which has stringent penalties for violating the compliance rules. Stricter measures need to be taken to safeguard patient data in the public-cloud. From this aspect, healthcare companies need to be careful when choosing a cloud-computing provider because of the vulnerabilities of the public-cloud. Virtual private-clouds could be a good option from this perspective. Better yet, companies can further safeguard customer data by making use of data centers to create their own private-cloud."

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