How Cloud Computing is Transforming the Healthcare Industry in 2024

Adopting cloud computing solutions can make healthcare operations more efficient and cost-effective. Cloud computing is enabling greater integration and collaboration between hospitals, medical organizations, and healthcare providers, addressing what was previously considered a largely fragmented and siloed industry. Dicom Systems has leveraged the healthcare cloud to deploy enterprise imaging initiatives and advance interoperability for a number of clients globally. Our Cloud Partners include AWS, Google CloudFind, Azure and Life Image.

Cloud Computing Explained

Cloud computing, or “the cloud” as it’s often referred to, offers on-demand computing by using the latest in technology to deploy, access, and use networked information, applications, and resources. The cloud provides computing services over the internet, rather than via computer server networks housed on-premises.

Worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services is forecast to grow 20.4% to total $678.8 billion in 2024, up from $563.6 billion in 2023, according to the latest forecast from Gartner, Inc.
Key services delivered by cloud computing are:
  • Servers
  • Storage
  • Databases
  • Networking
  • Software
  • Analytics
  • Intelligence
Combined, these cloud computing services act as an able replacement for the on-prem hard-wired option.
It is important to note that not all cloud computing offerings are the same and a one-cloud-fits-all option does not exist. For example, what may be acceptable cloud computing protocols for the financial industry may not be useful to the healthcare profession.
Types of cloud computing options include:
  • Public cloud enables the use of resources such as storage, applications, and virtual machines to a variety of enterprises. The cost for public cloud services may be through a subscription for the services, an on-demand arrangement, or other accommodation.
  • Private cloud is used by one entity and the services and infrastructure are maintained on a private network or system. The private cloud option could be located on-prem at a datacenter or hosted by an outside vendor.
  • Hybrid clouds combine assets of the private and public option to allow sharing of information and applications.

Benefits of Storing Patient Data in the Cloud

Cloud data storage options have become more widely adopted in healthcare over the past several years, as potential concerns about storing data “off-premise” have been addressed. As organizations adopt mobile applications, storing clinical data in the cloud provides users more complete access.

The benefits of storing patient data in the clouds include:

  1. Enhanced security – As new levels of improved security are developed, cloud-based patient data storage is subject to continuous improvements with little or no disruption to the access of information.
  2. Scalability – With a traditional model, patient storage costs are fixed and there may often be instances of unused capacity. Cloud storage, however, can quickly adapt to the latest needs so as the patient data increases or decreases , cloud storage adjusts accordingly. If an organization has a pay-as-you-go arrangement with their vendor, it could considerable cost savings.
  3. Reduced IT costs
    Storing patient data in the cloud through the private model means there is a potential reduction in the size of the IT staff needed on site, to perform upgrades and maintenance.
  4. Availability and Reliability
    On-prem data storage may be vulnerable to power outages, bringing the operations to a halt in the event of a disaster. In the cloud, data is safe and secure, with recurring power and backup power sources built into the system.
  5. Access
    Patient data stored on a cloud platform is always readily available anywhere there is Internet access, 24/7. This benefit of cloud computing became particularly critical during the pandemic, enabling remote work for healthcare professionals, and telehealth appointment options for patients.
  6. Addresses the unknown
    Cloud computing eliminates the adjustments required through traditional patient data storage changes by seamlessly integrating them into the current cloud operating system.

What type of patient data can be stored in the cloud?

There is no limit to the cloud’s ability to store and protect patient data. Typical patient data storage needs include:

  • Clinical
    Patient health records, physician notes and orders, pharmaceutical information, or test results, cloud computing options can store this and more.
  • Revenue cycle management
    Healthcare facilities can track patient care episodes from registration and appointment scheduling to the final payment of a balance.
  • Imaging
    X-rays, CT scans, MRIs are among radiology and imaging records that can be stored in the cloud.

Can Confidential Patient Information Be Securely Stored in the Cloud?

HIPAA safe harbor de-identification methodology requires 18 PHI identifiers to be masked or removed—making data preparation a complex undertaking.

Unlike server-based systems, private information is not prone to exposure due to human error or software glitches. Patient EHR/EMRs stored under most cloud-based systems are encrypted so even if the system were breached by an outside resource, a thief could not use the data they retrieve.
In a cloud-based format, confidential patient-based information is protected by a third-party, which is continually updating firewall security and other protection measures so that the only people reviewing the information are the people who are authorized to do so.

Enterprise Imaging and Teleradiology in the Cloud

Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR, pronounced “fire”) is a standard describing data formats and elements (known as “resources”) and an application programming interface (API) for exchanging electronic health/medical records (EHR/EMR).

FHIR builds on previous data format standards from HL7, and is easier to implement because it uses a modern web-based suite of API technology, including a HTTP-based RESTful protocol.

Safe Harbor methodology requires 18 PHI identifiers to be masked or removed, making data preparation a complex undertaking. To combat these vulnerabilities, biomedical studies must be de-identified in such a way that it can still be of value to researchers without revealing patient identity.

The solution is a proven and scalable de-identification toolset – an on-ramp to artificial intelligence (AI) – that unlocks imaging studies for areas such as research, policy assessment, and comparative effectiveness studies, without compromising patient privacy.

Consumption of high quality data by deep learning applications is an essential contribution to better machine learning algorithms, unleashing tremendous potential for research and for AI solutions that benefit patient care.

The Cloud and Telehealth

Telehealth — sometimes called telemedicine — is a virtual interaction between provider and patient, with the intention of providing medical care. Telehealth benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic include expanding access to care, reducing disease exposure for staff and patients, preserving scarce supplies of personal protective equipment, and reducing patient demand on facilities. McKinsey reports that In April 2020, overall telehealth utilization for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher than in February 2020.

Cloud computing offers a fast path to get telehealth systems up and running, whether telehealth is required during a catastrophic event, or simply offered as a choice due to patient preference. The cloud allows for the petabytes of storage that will be needed for images, while providing the ability to build and deploy systems that will extend a clinician’s reach with a basic internet connection or a cell signal. In addition to elastic storage, there are additional benefits that cloud computing can bring to telehealth: speed to deployment, the ubiquitous nature of cloud computing around the world, and the capability to scale to much higher patient loads.

Improving Disaster Recovery With Cloud Computing

Disaster recovery (DR) is an organization’s method of regaining access and functionality to its IT infrastructure after a natural or human disaster. This disaster could take one of a number of forms, but they all lead to the same result: the disruption of a system’s normal function, preventing a business from completing its daily objectives. An effective disaster recovery plan allows health IT teams restore medical data and resume normal processes with minimal downtime following any type of data loss.
If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that healthcare has to be prepared for any number of scenarios. While in the past we may have associated the word “disaster” with natural disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes, or fires, we have learned that disaster preparedness and recovery are even more complex during a pandemic.
When access to on-prem systems is limited, a cloud-based health IT platform has a significant advantage as part of a disaster recovery response plan.

Cloud-Based Enterprise Imaging Solutions by Dicom Systems

Dicom Systems’ Unifier Cloud Archive is instrumental in disaster recovery. When a healthcare system’s picture archiving communication system (PACS/MIMPS) goes down, the need for disaster recovery and business continuity must go hand in hand, so that mission-critical clinical workflows can continue. Unifier Cloud Archive ensures uninterrupted patient imaging operations, whether PACS/MIMPS downtime was planned or unplanned. Our DRaaS (disaster recovery as a service) solution lets our customers not only store the data into any chosen cloud in natively Dicom format, but it also enables the Dicom objects to be queried, retrieved and viewed in a zero-footprint viewer. As such, the Unifier Cloud Archive can be used as a real-time source for relevant prior images. When it launched in 2019, Dicom Systems’ Unifier Cloud Archive was the first turnkey solution for backing up HIPAA-compliant medical imaging to the cloud.

Dicom Systems Cloud Partners include AWS, Google Cloud, Azure and Life Image. The collaboration with these partners allows us to deploy the Unifier platform to serve as a bridge between on-premises systems and the cloud, allowing organizations to access data from a highly secure infrastructure.

In addition to our Cloud Partners we are also available on AWS, Google Cloud and Azure Marketplaces.
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