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If ever there was an industry in need of higher quality for less money, it’s the healthcare sector. In addition to the demand to improve operational efficiency, healthcare service providers are increasingly facing competition, which is putting the pressure on to do more for less.



This is where cloud computing proves to be beneficial. According to the “Healthcare Cloud Computing” forecast, the cloud computing market in healthcare is expected to be worth $5.4 billion by 2017.


 The Benefits

When the cloud is leveraged, healthcare institutions don’t need to invest in hardware infrastructure and maintenance. In addition to this, cloud collaboration enables hospitals, private practitioners, doctors, and clinics to improve services for patients by opening the pathway for health care providers to easily share information. Cloud-based storage makes the information available to anyone who's taking care of the patients, allowing healthcare practitioners to view their patients’ longitudinal history, diagnoses and treatments.


American Sentinel University’s Dr. Suzanne Richins, a former RN, says cloud-based applications benefit nurses and patients at point of care significantly, and that nurses with a nursing informatics specialization will soon be in high demand to manage health information systems. “Early in my career, I worked in the ER, and in my experience a couple minutes would pass before the patient would remember specifics about their condition,” shared Richins. “This is a detriment because time is of the essence. People aren’t generally good historians when they’re ill. They often forget what meds they're on. The cloud gives us access to important data.”


Stephen Baker, author of “The Numerati and Final Jeopardy, Man vs Machine and the Quest to Know Everything” explores the harvesting and use of data. “The other problem the cloud addresses [in healthcare] is the duplication of tests,” Bakers said. “The fact that data is now available in the cloud eliminates duplication… the care is more targeted. The care of patients needs to be personalized based on their history and physiology.” While the cloud provides great benefits to the healthcare industry, there are more than a few precautions to take when adopting the technology.


The Concerns

Cloud service providers are required to comply with many privacy standards such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).  Today there are a number of cloud providers offering HIPAA compliance, which Richins says should be taken quite seriously. “People need to careful when they're picking a cloud provider,” said Richins. “Hospitals need to make sure their provider is following the laws. Individuals can be liable for breaches, and ultimately the person taking care of the patient is responsible.” “The scariest scenarios I can think of involve companies breaking the law,” said Baker. “I think privacy concerns on the part of the public will tend to keep the players honest, everything being relative.”


So what’s the future of the cloud in the healthcare industry on a grand scale? Baker says it’s all contingent upon what’s shared. “The future of cloud collaboration in medicine depends in great part on the industry settling on open standards,” said Baker. “If hospital groups are able to keep their data within their ecosystems of suppliers and partners, and use it as leverage to gain market share, we face a fractured industry, and we won't stand to benefit from collaboration. In short, in many ways we won't have the medical Internet we've been wanting and deserving for the last 20 years.”


By Melissa Jun Rowley


The contents or opinions in this feature are independent and may not necessarily represent the views of Cisco. They are offered in an effort to encourage continuing conversations on a broad range of innovative technology subjects.

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