How the Cloud is Benefiting the Healthcare Industry

For years, healthcare has been in need of technological reform, and with technology continuing to move forward, the healthcare industry has begun to implement the use of the cloud for data storage. The cloud provides endless benefits to both patient and physician and is being globally regarded as the new standard of healthcare. This complex system not only allows connection between patient and physician, but it also connects physicians to one another and researchers. It has reduced the cost for both physician and patient and is paving the way for a new and reformed medical field. With the right provider, consumers are able to completely transform their medical experience and increase quality of care.

One of the largest appeals of the cloud to the healthcare industry is the amount of space for data storage. Because physicians typically have to retain patient records for seven years after the last treatment date or three years after the patient’s death, a practice’s form of data storage, whether on paper or on desktop, can easily become overcrowded. With more than one physician operating out of a single office, the need for data storage space is desperate. The cloud gives clinicians the ability to remotely store their data and easily upgrade the amount of space they need. With the scalable database, change and growth are easily accommodated. Keeping the system high functioning and up to date is no longer a problem as the cloud only requires simple software updates rather than lengthy and costly system upgrades that previous data storage required. The risk of losing patient records in a disaster is also eliminated because it is no longer stored on the hardware itself, but rather available through any device that can access the cloud.  All of the patient records are kept up to date and accurately reflect the real-time status of the patient. This allows for appropriate care and effortless collaborations between offices.

Because the cloud does not require IT operations, the overall cost of operations decreases dramatically. On average, practices can save 50-70% on data storage alone and research suggests that 88% of offices save 20% of their overall spending when implementing the cloud. The updates and upgrades are inexpensive and time effective compared to the older form of desktop data storage. While change in space for data required expensive upgrades and system changes with older techniques, the cloud offers virtually unlimited storage of data and is easily customized to fit the practice’s specific demands. It eliminates the need for onsite host servers and in house technical support. Depending on the provider, the cloud can be available to patients as well through a pay by use plan. This can potentially decrease the charge for office visits as well as reduce the amount of in-office patient check-ups needed. The cloud is also able to save patients money by preventing any repeat testing. If a test is performed at one site, the records and results of that test will be readily available to any other office for examination as well. It eliminates the need for complicated data transfer and costly hard copy deliveries. The cost savings free up a significant amount of resources that can be reallocated to better service both the patient and physician.

One of the major topics surrounding the cloud is the liability and contract of the provider. Practices want to ensure that the security is good enough to keep patient records guarded. The solution to this issue lies in what company and application the practice chooses to store data with. To ensure adequate security, a practice should always elect a software that has Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) approval. There are many companies that have designed their application specifically for healthcare and have appropriately followed HIPPA regulations. With a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) under HIPPA, the provider ensures safety of patient records and is prevented from inappropriately sharing them without consent. The security of these third-party providers is typically bulletproofed and not susceptible to data hacks. However, when contracted correctly under a BAA, if there is a type of data breach, the practice and patients affected will be notified. The new security of the cloud prevents loss of paperwork, missing files, and hard copies of patient information being released. This has the potential to decrease the amount of HIPPA violations due to strict control of the patient information. Practices no longer have to release their hard copy of results to patients because they can easily transfer it through the cloud.

The transfer of data storage to the cloud largely affects the patient’s experience. With the cloud, real time information and charts are available to the physician allowing for accurate and appropriate medical care. If the charts are shared, diagnosis can be made easier with all of the symptoms reported at any office grouped together in one area. The responsibility of the patient to transfer records is eliminated due to the easy-to-use collaboration properties. Easy transfer of information also provides the patient comfort when going to an appointment with a new physician, because they already have the entire medical history of the patient available to them. It even has the capacity to offer remote access to information and monitoring of condition without a visit to the doctor’s office. Patients also have the ability to attain their prescriptions through the cloud rather than delivering the paper form. Researchers believe that the ease of patient and physician communication will increase the overall amount of interaction. Increased interaction can potentially improve the overall health of individuals who use the system.

This method of data storage has a huge positive impact on physicians of all types. Many times, conditions can have a number of symptoms presented across various areas. If information was relayed appropriately through different specialists, accurately diagnosing the condition would become simpler. The cloud provides real time updates and status of the patients and eliminates the waiting period for the patient’s records to be transferred. It has created a new access to the field of telemedicine which allows physicians to treat patients remotely. With telemedicine becoming more widespread, the use of the cloud has become more popular. Doctors no longer have to see the patient face to face in order to diagnose and prescribe medicine. Surgeons can begin to perform telesurgeries through computers and robots without having to physically be at the operation site. With the cloud, it is no longer necessary for physicians to spend extra hours at the office just to review charts; they can simply access the information from their home or from their hotel room while on vacation.

The cloud also has the ability to greatly enhance emergency medical care. If the staff is able to obtain the identity of the patient and consent for release of their records, they could gain access to the patient’s complete medical information. With access to information on blood type and allergies readily available, trauma staff will be able to provide the highest quality of care individualized for that patient. This saves the staff from having to review medical history with the patient and eliminates the chance that information could be omitted. The cloud can also simplify the tasks of a hospital’s staff and increase patient care by providing easily accessible information when a shift change occurs and when the patient is transferred to a separate wing of the hospital. The increased knowledge of patient history early on has the capacity to not only improve patient care but save more lives as well.

 

The flexibility and efficiency of the cloud also gives way to new approach to research. Because the available room for data is scalable and virtually unlimited, researchers have the ability to review mass amounts of data and conduct larger studies than previously allowed. With the cloud, physicians have the ability to contribute their patient’s data to research if they consent. This allows for more accurate results and makes trend spotting much easier. The cloud provides room for growth of the study, and with expansion, more results can be drawn. The mass information can then be used to create newer, more effective pharmacological solution that can pinpoint the exact causes.

 

While the cloud has many benefits to the healthcare industry, there is a limited number of drawbacks as well. With the third party sharing of the information, the consumer has no control over where the data lives. Even though the information is backed up regularly, there is a large amount of practices that are concerned with the possibility of a hack or the loss of information due to a data breach. Another main disadvantage of the cloud is the requirement of fast, up to date internet access. If the access is not able to support the needs of multiple devices and immediate service, the application will not run appropriately. Many users also reported downtime of the software itself, which can prevent healthcare providers from offering the best care.

 

After years, the implementation of the cloud has finally become widespread in healthcare systems across the globe. Innovation has now become essential in the healthcare industry and the benefits of the use of the cloud provide for not only the advancement and accuracy of treatment but widespread security of information as well. Consistent sharing of information and up to date records provide the best healthcare available for patients and simplify the job of the physician. It has created new approaches to medicine and will continue to encourage movement toward continuous growth of the medical field.

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