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June 17, 2021 | David McKenney

The Cloud’s Role in the Transformation of Healthcare

The 2020 pandemic accelerated the transformation of healthcare that began a few years earlier. The adoption of new technology will help healthcare organizations achieve their goal: improving patient outcomes. In our post, we will cover why and how cloud computing is one of the biggest drivers of the digital transformation of healthcare.

What is causing this acceleration?

Social distancing and hygiene requirements forced hospitals and other providers to speed up their adoption of transformative technologies, including cloud services, electronic records, virtual offices, telemedicine, and artificial intelligence (AI). Are You Keeping Up with Healthcare Transformation Tech Trends?

Healthcare leaders ramped up their deployment of e-health or telehealth applications. This allows patients could see their doctors remotely and added or upgraded self-service portals to give patients easier access to health services and to their personal records. Team collaboration tools and software-as-a-service applications helped physicians, researchers, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals share information and insights.

Most if not all modern healthcare technologies will depend on the cloud, from virtual urgent care applications and cloud data storage to secure file sharing.

The healthcare cloud computing market will likely surpass $66.3 billion by 2030, from $26.5 billion in 2020 according to Fatpos Global consulting firm, while McKinsey estimates that up to $250 billion of U.S. healthcare spending may be on virtual healthcare products and services.

Cloud computing is popular in most industries to help reduce IT costs and increase the efficient use of IT resources. The cloud enables companies to easily scale up their cloud resources, as needed, and then release those resources when no longer required.

Top drivers for cloud adoption in healthcare

In addition to those benefits, health systems have additional motivations for adopting cloud computing. Those are:

Demand for remote patient care delivery

When Covid-19 struck, consumer demand for digital healthcare services rose sharply. Virtual patient visits rose from 15% in 2019 to 28% in April 2020, and 80% of patients say they’ll continue using virtual visits even after the pandemic is over, according to Deloitte.

In addition to virtual doctor’s visits, consumer use of healthcare portals rose substantially and will continue to grow. According to IDC, two in three patients will access healthcare through a portal or other “digital front door” by 2023.

The overall spending on telehealth technologies. IDC has projected that digitally-enabled remote care and clinical trials will drive 70% growth in spending on connected health technologies by 2023. It is up to the healthcare providers to continue to offer quality care, despite the shift from in-person visits.

Securing medical records and vital patient data

A report by Accenture noted that security in the public cloud requires end users and applications to be explicitly granted permission for access. The default is to refuse access. Public cloud providers today are also secured by multiple, advanced technologies including encryption, identity, and access control, intrusion prevention and detection, real-time security intelligence feeds, and threat management. A good cloud security services provider will have experience in both the healthcare industry and cloud security, and certification in government regulations and industry best practices.

Blockchain is gaining adoption in healthcare. Blockchain is a digital ledger that records, encrypts, and time-stamps records into an inter-locked chain that makes it impossible to modify any one record without unraveling the chain.

The global healthcare blockchain market is forecast to top US $3 billion by the end of 2026—an annual growth rate of over 62%. Blockchain has the potential in verifying smart contracts, securing electronic health records, and ensuring the integrity of products in the supply chain, including drugs and medical supplies. Blockchain might help hospitals avoid counterfeit products, such as occurred with some shipments of N95 masks.

Growth in big data and analytics

Hospitals manage tons of data, from supply inventories and insurance data to patient medical charts, research, doctor’s notes, and diagnostic images. Hospitals produce 50 petabytes of data per year, according to the World Economic Forum.

This volume of data includes operational and patient data. The amount of healthcare-related data is constantly increasing. This mass of healthcare data is both a blessing and a curse for healthcare organizations.

On the positive side, data generated data from diagnostic equipment, patient monitors, medical images, electronic health records (EHR), and Internet-of-things (IoT) devices help hospitals to improve patient diagnosis and treatment outcomes. For example, leading makers of wrist-worn devices have developed algorithms to detect early signs of infectious diseases, including COVID-19 and the flu. The global Internet of Things (IoT) healthcare market is projected to reach $188.2 billion in 2025.

Analytics and AI-based diagnostic tools enable doctors and scientists to uncover valuable insights from data. For instance, researchers developed an AI algorithm that can mine EHR data for optimal treatment strategies for patients. At the University of Washington, researchers use machine learning  to check a patient’s pulse and heart rate via real-time video feed over a mobile phone. IDC projects that, by 2026, 65% of medical imaging workflows will use AI to detect underlying diseases.

The less positive side to data growth is the cost and time involved in managing huge volumes of data. Cloud-based storage is a cost-effective solution for storing and backing up petabytes of data, and many cloud providers offer data management services. Likewise, cloud-based content management and electronic health records (EHR) applications enable hospitals to store volumes of patient data without the expense of new hardware.

The flow of data between platforms and APIs

The cloud provides a cost-effective platform for sharing data between healthcare providers. Hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and insurers can share data and files over a common cloud platform using healthcare interoperability standards and APIs – a capability that isn’t possible with legacy EHR systems. Cloud-based electronic records applications and healthcare exchanges also enable data sharing between disparate cloud healthcare applications.

In addition, many leading cloud platforms–including Microsoft’s Azure for Health and the Google Cloud—have APIs based on healthcare open standards for data exchange. These include the Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) for diagnostic images and the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) for describing data formats and an API for exchanging electronic health records.

Cloud is key to successful digital strategies in healthcare

Facilitating data flow and cost-effective storage and security, the cloud has become the standard platform for modernizing healthcare IT systems.

Are you looking to use cloud services to better deliver health outcomes for your patients? Cloud services providers offer a range of services for data interoperability, data security, cloud migration, and cloud connectivity options to help healthcare companies be more innovative and competitive. Learn more about our healthcare IT solutions for businesses.

Delivering Modern Healthcare -Virtualizing healthcare IT for better patient outcomes

Originally published in September 2019, this post was updated on June 15, 2021, to reflect changes in stats and to add more context around trends impacting the healthcare industry.

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