Why the healthcare industry’s move to cloud computing is accelerating


Physicians are targeting breast and ovarian cancer through research that crunches massive amounts of information from more than 2,000 DNA sequences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The data set is gigantic — more than 100 terabytes — and the analysis happens aboard a secure cloud-based platform through Amazon Web Services.

“By using AWS, we can store source files securely and cost-effectively with significant durability and accessibility,” one of the researchers said. “We wouldn’t be able to conduct our research without it.”

The case illustrates several reasons the healthcare industry’s use of the cloud is growing aggressively. As Mount Sinai researchers hunt for the genetic causes of these cancers, their research platform helps them meet three key needs: The platform is secure, maintaining the confidentiality of patient information; it is scalable, allowing economic growth as the data set increases and performance needs change; and it is collaborative, enabling researchers to work with external partners.

These needs drove $3.73 billion in healthcare spending on cloud services last year and will push that number nearly threefold to $9.5 billion by 2020. Cloud-based computing is on the rise in healthcare as physicians, hospital administrators, and patients demand cost efficiency, access to information, and security.

The tipping point is here

Two years ago, healthcare professionals largely depended on cloud-based solutions for back-office needs, such as email and data storage, or supporting the secure exchange of patient information. A survey of 105 healthcare industry IT and leadership professionals this year shows the use case is expanding quickly.

For example, 59% of respondents said they’re using or planning to use cloud solutions for big data analysis, as in the Mount Sinai case. Virtual care, or telemedicine, is expected to explode in the next few years as researchers note that 70% of routine doctor visits don’t require face-to-face interaction. Virtual care will become commonplace, with 80 percent of patient interactions relying on the Internet of Things and big data — which both benefit from cloud computing solutions — to bolster patient care by 2021.

Meanwhile, 73% of industry professionals will use the cloud to host patient empowerment tools — another key driver toward the cloud. This means healthcare providers are increasingly using cloud-based applications to put resources into the hands of patients that will allow them to educate themselves, monitor their own health, and store and share their health records.

SweetSpot Diabetes Care is doing just that with a cloud-based application that empowers diabetics to take greater control of their glucose data. The company’s application takes data from a variety of web-enabled metering devices and lets patients analyse, store, and share their glucose data with healthcare professionals in a format that’s easy to evaluate.

Why is the cloud so critical?

Of all their options, why are healthcare organisations choosing the cloud to address their needs? Cloud-based applications can easily scale up or down as demand changes; from a development perspective, they’re flexible and accessible. They can be updated centrally and rolled out from their test environment easily. They can potentially perform better on cloud platforms dispersed around the country or the world, improving access.

That flexibility extends to include collaboration, creating increased opportunity. Big companies can partner with smaller innovators or third-party developers to execute on business and customer engagement strategies in a secure, agile, and cost-efficient environment.

And, yes, it certainly comes down to cost in the end.

Today’s healthcare IT professionals are under pressure to shift from capital-intensive technology investments to operational expenses that offer flexibility and center on their core business. Healthcare leaders want to funnel capital into cash flow-generating activities that allow them to deliver improved outcomes. Cloud computing lets healthcare organisations focus on healthcare rather than data centers, digital real estate to house them, and skilled professionals to maintain and operate them.

What about the future?

The explosion in the healthcare industry’s reliance on cloud-based computing — coupled with the industry’s need to be flexible, collaborative, and consumer-focused — means that healthcare will inevitably adopt new ways of utilising the cloud. This leads to several predictions about emerging trends.

  • More patient-clinician interaction: Look for more two-way communication between healthcare providers and patients as care is increasingly delivered through mobile devices, wearable technology, instant alerts, and digital healthcare reminders.
  • Records in real time: Connected devices will give both patients and healthcare professionals real-time access to health records, painting a more holistic picture of our health as it happens. The trend could also give us the benefit of information aggregated from a population level, exposing community and public healthcare issues more quickly.
  • More ownership of our data: Expect developers to create tools to help individuals take more ownership of their own health and connect their experiences with schools, government organisations, legislative bodies, and beyond. Think of it as a virtual health information exchange.

The cloud is a highly effective platform for healthcare organisations to leverage, made more relevant by the industry’s evolution toward a consumer-driven approach to care and its need for greater collaboration to serve long-term growth.

Creating innovative, agile, and collaborative cloud environments for healthcare in which all players can participate helps to simplify, organise, and streamline its many moving parts. With cloud-based solutions, organisations can stop fretting over the small stuff and start focusing on improving the big picture for their patients.