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Why Healthcare Organizations should Adopt Cloud Computing

August 23, 2021

Cloud computing involves utilizing a network of remote servers via the internet instead of relying on local servers or physical computers.

Health experts believe that cloud computing can improve healthcare services, enhance research, as well as boost overall productivity.

However, just like any other innovation, organizations should not implement cloud computing without understanding its risks.

Goal

This article will provide a detailed overview of why healthcare industries should adopt cloud computing.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing is a model for delivering computing resources. Most organizations have adopted this practice to enhance their operations and reduce costs.

The main difference between cloud and on-premise deployment is where the hardware, software, and applications reside.

In on-premise deployment, company infrastructure is managed and maintained by a company internally.

In cloud computing, infrastructure is offsite and maintained by a third-party vendor.

The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to increased adoption of cloud computing in the healthcare sector.

Cloud deployment models

Cloud computing can be implemented in the following ways:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) – It means that medical data is stored in the cloud and accessed over the internet. Third-party cloud vendors have control over the environment and users’ data.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) – It implies that cloud vendors provide a platform where users can host and run their applications.
  • Infrastructures as a Service (IaaS) – Cloud providers deliver computing resources while users maintain complete control over the entire infrastructure.

Cloud computing applications

Below are the common cloud computing applications in the healthcare sector:

Electronic mail

It is the most popular cloud computing application used in the healthcare industry.

However, medical facilities should comply with different security policies to avoid penalties.

Most cloud vendors offer encryption services depending on the level of security needed by the organization.

In addition, some cloud providers offer options for email filtering, which assists in blocking malicious inbound messages.

It also checks if outbound messages adhere to policies to avoid data leakage.

Online fax

Most healthcare organizations use online fax to send or receive digital data.

Some cloud faxing vendors integrate their systems with hospital`s email accounts. These solutions boost compliance since data is encrypted.

Besides, online faxing keeps the updated logs of any activities, thus saving valuable time.

Electronic Health Record (EHR) and Electronic Medical Record (EMRs)

Cloud-based medical records are being utilized in healthcare organizations. Setting up a local EHR system is quite costly due to hardware and software requirements.

Cloud computing helps to eliminate these costs. It also enhances data safety through access control, encryption, and logging.

Cloud solution helps to improve interoperability and data sharing. These processes are important for future expansion plans.

Benefits of cloud computing in healthcare

Minimal cost and less resource consumption

Migrating to cloud computing enables the healthcare sector to gain access to computing power and storage without investing in infrastructure and human resources.

Cloud computing operates on a pay-as-you-use basis. Besides, there is no need for firms to update and patch cloud systems regularly.

Cloud computing relieves healthcare facilities from long-term contracts and licensing agreements.

Hospitals can also reduce their IT and human resource personnel. This is because many applications can be consolidated into one.

Improved security

Cloud computing is secure by default. Only authorized users can access certain services.

Moreover, cloud vendors work with highly qualified technical experts that most healthcare industries cannot recruit.

These professionals conduct penetration testing and utilize other preventive measures to ensure that the system is always secure. They also use various security tools such as encryption, proactively monitoring, and addressing security threats on time.

To improve cloud security, vendors allocate more time and budget to monitor vulnerabilities. They also assist in automatic backups and disaster recovery plans.

Scalability

As healthcare organizations grow, they need more computing power and storage capacity. Cloud solutions can scale based on requirements with less disruption as the infrastructure is already available.

During a pandemic like Covid-19, hospitals need the latest hardware and software to handle more patients. Therefore, healthcare facilities that had adopted cloud computing managed to scale up their operations quickly.

Analytical capabilities

Medical facilities produce a massive amount of structured and unstructured data each year. This data is essential in decision-making.

Artificial intelligence and big data analytics offer advanced computational capabilities. These systems can be used to aggregate and analyze data.

Healthcare can utilize this information to improve the diagnosis process, as well as craft customized treatment plans. These tools also improve patient engagement and data management.

In addition, analytics assist in identifying malfunctions in key healthcare systems. For instance, AI models are used to predict Covid-19 outbreaks.

Data interoperability

The primary aim of interoperability is to ensure that data is integrated throughout the healthcare system regardless of its origins.

Interoperability also ensures that data obtained from different sources can be shared and accessed by different stakeholders.

Risks and possible solutions

Risk 1: Availability and control

After migrating data to cloud computing, health facilities usually delegate certain responsibilities to cloud vendors. This is especially common when the SaaS model is used.

This raises concerns with medical facilities since they still have to protect the patient data, yet they have little control over it.

Cloud services can experience downtimes. As a result, hospitals have to rely on traditional systems which are time-consuming. These downtimes can also be life-threatening.

Possible solution

Hospitals should establish disaster recovery plans. For instance, having a backup infrastructure can help prevent errors.

Alternatively, a medical facility can adopt a multi-cloud approach, where it can rely on several vendors to provide an alternative in case one system goes down.

Risk 2: Obsolete legacy system issues

Most medical devices operate on legacy platforms which makes it difficult to replace them before migrating to cloud computing.

Integrating such systems into the cloud comes with a new set of risks. For instance, some legacy systems run on obsolete machine code and may contain security loopholes.

Possible solution

Before migrating to cloud solutions, medical facilities should identify and address any vulnerability that may come with legacy equipment.

Healthcare centers may also consider using network segmentation to isolate high-risk devices that may cause potential breaches. This will limit the negative impact on the network.

Risk 3: Regulatory compliance violations

There are strict regulations to protect patient data.

Violating these regulations can destroy the hospital’s reputation and comes with adverse financial consequences.

Therefore, healthcare organizations should ensure that they comply with regulations during cloud migration.

Possible solution

Healthcare firms should be aware that some cloud providers do not adhere to all regulations.

Some cloud vendors may also be compliant but rely on tools from third parties to secure their systems.

Healthcare organizations should, therefore, evaluate cloud platforms to ensure that they comply with different regulations.

Risk 4: Organizational unpreparedness

Healthcare organizations may embrace cloud computing before they adequately prepare. For instance, they may fail to check if their existing systems and processes are well-documented.

This issue increases the probability of errors been transferred to the cloud. Therefore, an organization may not have a chance to fix its current systems.

In addition, some clients never trust their cloud computing providers. As a result, they could end up shifting to other facilities.

Possible solution

Healthcare organizations are required to prepare adequately for cloud computing before adopting it. They need to do technological assessments, as well as analyze their existing platforms.

In addition, healthcare organizations should familiarize themselves with their selected cloud platform to avoid confusion.

Risk 5: Security threats

Cloud computing is more secure compared to on-premises storage. However, cloud computing still faces significant risks including data breaches and malware attacks.

Though cloud vendors may be responsible for these threats, some issues may be due to employee errors and deliberate attacks.

Possible solution

Healthcare organizations should choose cloud vendors that offer a consistent offline backup solution to deal with security risks.

An organization can recover data from offline backup rather than paying ransom to hackers.

Robust encryption methods also need to be implemented so that information will still be unreadable in case of data breaches.

Conclusion

Cloud computing has numerous risks. Therefore, healthcare organizations should evaluate these platforms critically. This would enable them to set goals, as well as make effective decisions.


Peer Review Contributions by: Onesmus Mbaabu