Hospital corridor

Safety first – Healthcare in the cloud is ahead of the curve

Ahead of eHealthWeek and World of Health IT, taking place this week in Dublin, Microsoft’s Neil Jordan discusses why the health sector should embrace cloud technology to help improve the service it provides to patients.

Just a few months back, the EU’s cyber security agency – European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) – issued a report naming cloud computing as its top concern. The report asked what would happen if a cloud service failed or was attacked given its high concentration of data and growing use in critical sectors, such as finance, health and insurance. Its findings concluded that outages or security breaches with large providers could impact multiple organizations and citizens at once, despite the protection put in place.

ENISA is rightly concerned. However, although the proliferation of services and access, in particular within healthcare, introduces a layer of risk that must be proactively managed, many of the concerns lead from a perception that information not being held on premise is less secure. In addition, with estimates from the European Commission that a 45 billion euro investment in cloud technology truly could be a “game changer” for the troubled European Union economy by delivering almost a trillion euros in GDP and creating almost four million jobs by 2020, it’s been proven that the benefits of the cloud cannot be ignored. Clearly, adopting the cloud in health is not so much a question of “if” as it is a question of “when”.

Cloud computing refers to the processing and storage of your data on computers and data centers based away from your own premises. You are utilizing computing power that you do not own, and which is located somewhere else, in “the cloud”. This concept is familiar to anyone who has a personal online email account, like Hotmail and Outlook.com, or who stores photos online using SkyDrive or other mediums.

As organizations increasingly look to drive down costs, there is a move towards the cloud because it reduces their need to build and maintain IT infrastructure with applications and data on servers at their physical location. Large scale data centers offer economies of scale, providing cheaper computing power, combined with the flexibility to pay only for what you use.

In health, provided security concerns are addressed to protect the privileged personal information of patients and physicians, cloud computing has the potential to make a real impact; rebuilding the industry, finding new efficiencies and producing better outcomes for more people – all with technology available now. Cloud computing can also reach across the traditional infrastructural barriers between institutions in the fragmented and changing health ecosystem.

With eHealth Week and World of Health IT taking place in Dublin this week, the potential of cloud computing to solve problems being faced by healthcare providers is set to be a big discussion point amongst participants.

One of the main barriers to adoption in the EU is that a lack of clear, common standards and agreements for interoperability leads organizations to take a wait-and-see attitude about adopting cloud solutions. Ensuring the safety and security of data is arguably the most important in healthcare. However, the reality is that secure cloud computing is viable today and the reason adoption is lagging is more cultural than technological. Many organizations across Europe are being constrained by decreasing budgets and increasing demands, resulting in them shifting important applications to the cloud. Health shouldn’t be an exception to this. In fact, commodity applications such as email, file storage, web and video conferencing, electronic medical records, practice management and clinical systems are all ideal for the cloud; with many hospitals using these to great success in recent years. 

German hospital network Landkreis Passau Gesundheitseinrichtungen (LPG) is a service company made up of hospitals and medical institutions that provide care for the Passau region; treating a total of 44,000 patients per year and employing 1,000 people. LPG needed to maintain quality requirements mandated by the German government but was challenged by an ageing documentation system which could not cope with updates or being accessed by multiple parties and those outside of the organization.

By implementing Microsoft SharePoint Online, a cloud-based document management service available as part of Microsoft Office 365, LPG was able to provide a highly secure platform with secure, anywhere access, to help maintain standards. Using Office 365 helped LPG to control its costs without paying for expensive hardware or software and additional IT staff. LPG now relies on Microsoft to manage these cloud-based services, avoiding the need for extra administration support from internal IT teams and leaving these staff to focus on their core jobs – ensuring medical equipment is ready to provide quality care. LPG’s management can also track how processes are working across the region and where improvements should be made, all in one system.

Mobile devices and mHealth applications are now also being used in the delivery of healthcare information to practitioners, researchers, and patients, and again the same security safeguards apply. For example, in the UK, Health Choices, a Windows Phone app, provides consumers access to NHS resources, such as details of conditions, medication, and local hospital contacts. Through the cloud, these apps stay connected, letting users access information across devices without being constrained by traditional IT systems.

Despite concerns on the safety of the cloud, providing there is a political or commercial desire to interoperate across multiple hospital clouds within agreed security and privacy regimes, there are no technical reasons why cloud technology cannot be applied to the healthcare sector. Affordable and secure cloud technology that helps health organizations ensure patients and practitioners can access information from the right device, at the right place, and the right time, is available now.

Every day that health care organizations delay moving applications to the cloud costs us not only financially and in lost productivity but potentially also in lost opportunities to improve patient care.

Neil Jordan is the general manager of Health for Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector. In this role, Jordan acts as chief strategist for the organization’s health industry initiatives worldwide, including defining and articulating the Microsoft vision for the future of healthcare and how Microsoft products, technologies and partner solutions will make it a reality.

Blending a deep background in healthcare-focused technology, Jordan leads Microsoft’s collaboration with an ecosystem of partners around the world to provide solutions that meet the specific needs of customers working to deliver better health outcomes for more people. Since the establishment of the global team, he has driven consistent growth of this multibillion-dollar business.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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