Cloud computing is truly a revolutionary technology and the underpinning for digital transformation across many commercial industries. Global cloud adoption has accelerated over recent years; today, over 90 percent of enterprises use cloud computing in one way or another. Not surprisingly, the healthcare industry is in on this trend too.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the state of cloud technology in healthcare — the factors driving cloud adoption, what cloud computing looks like in healthcare, and what all this means from a business standpoint.
The rise of cloud computing in healthcare
Like in many other commercial industries, cloud adoption has grown year over year in the healthcare sector. The global healthcare cloud market is currently worth about $25 billion, and according to a report by Global Market Insights, Inc. it could surpass $90 billion by 2027.
Digitization in healthcare is not exactly new. Electronic health records (EHRs), electronic medical records (EMRs), and personalized digital health devices have been around for years. So, why the growing interest in cloud computing? Well, there are generally two main reasons for this:
One, healthcare provision is becoming more and more data-centric. So, healthcare providers have to come up with practical solutions to manage both patient and business data. The cloud provides a lower-cost, convenient, and secure way to store, organize, and share vast volumes of information. The need for data interoperability from multiple sources such as IoT devices, wearables, and smartphones will also fuel the demand for cloud solutions.
The second reason for skyrocketing cloud adoption in healthcare is the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 saw a massive surge in cloud adoption across the board, not just in healthcare. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the company had seen two years’ worth of digital transformation only two months into the pandemic. The challenges brought about by the pandemic raised the need for sustainable ways that healthcare workers could collaborate and communicate remotely while accessing and tracking healthcare data in real time.
In short, the cloud is a far superior solution, meeting all the modern data and communications needs for healthcare providers, more than any other technology today.
What is cloud computing in healthcare?
In general, cloud computing is a way of delivering computing resources (hardware, software, storage, processing, etc.) via the internet or private intranet. Cloud adoption can be on-premise, public, or a combination of both — multi-cloud/hybrid cloud.
On-prem or private cloud implementation means that the business owns, controls, and manages the computing infrastructure. The public cloud is an IT model where a third-party host provides shared computing resources to multiple businesses, usually on-demand. A hybrid approach combines both public and private cloud systems, resulting in a multi-cloud deployment — where one organization uses more than one cloud platform.
According to Flexera’s 2021 State of the Cloud Report, 78 percent of enterprises run a hybrid cloud system, 19 percent run a public cloud, and only 2 percent rely exclusively on a private cloud. In a recent CHIME survey, 61 percent of healthcare IT executives said their organizations took a hybrid cloud approach. Only 10 and 11 percent said they relied solely on the public cloud and the private cloud, respectively. The hybrid cloud system is undoubtedly the most popular cloud deployment approach, not just in healthcare but across all industries.
Cloud computing models in healthcare
Cloud computing is offered in three main service models: SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. Each service model meets specific IT requirements and is suited to particular use cases. Here are the three cloud computing models in descending order of abstraction.
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
SaaS is the most basic and for commodity, communication, and collaboration services, the highest value form of cloud offering. It allows users to run hosted applications remotely over the internet. SaaS applications range from web services to smartphone apps. In the public cloud, the host maintains the runtime environment for the software and regularly updates and patches the client’s app. The Microsoft 365 suite is one example of a SaaS application.
The whole point of SaaS is to have multiple independent software clients with a shared, central data repository.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS provides an environment where developers can use the available coding, design, and runtime tools to create and deploy specialized applications on the cloud. The overall management of the software, including storage, resource allocation, and uptime, is left to the cloud vendor. Think of PaaS as a hosted software development kit or managed database solution that also doubles as a runtime container. A good PaaS example is Azure App Services or SQL Database, Cosmos, Azure AI/ML, or…. Other examples.
PaaS helps healthcare providers to quickly build, test, and deploy custom applications at very low costs.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS is the least abstracted cloud model, allowing the user more control over the cloud system without concern for the underlying hardware and network infrastructure. This is essentially a blank computing canvas where the user controls operating systems, virtualization, resource allocation and usage, data storage, basic configurations, and networking components. IaaS is ideal for large healthcare organizations wanting unlimited flexibility in deploying highly specialized cloud utilities. For instance, with Azure VMs, users can choose virtual infrastructures based on the processing, storage, and networking specs required.
What are the applications of cloud computing in the healthcare industry?
The cloud’s versatility opens up a whole range of possibilities for healthcare providers — possibilities that would otherwise be impractical with any other technology. Here are four exciting ways that healthcare providers are utilizing the power of the cloud:
- Digitized collaboration — The cloud brings healthcare workers closer together through remote virtual collaboration. Cloud-based communication capabilities such as conferencing, video calling, and instant messaging allow patients, work colleagues, and doctors to stay connected while at work, home, or on the move.
- Telehealth — Cloud services provide a platform to develop telehealth systems where healthcare providers can deliver services and information remotely. Telehealth covers a broad scope of remote healthcare-related services, including patient monitoring, medical training, and treatment intervention.
- High-powered business analytics — The cloud drastically simplifies business intelligence for healthcare enterprises. By utilizing cloud technologies such as big data analytics, healthcare businesses can quickly identify and adapt to patterns in the industry.
- Enhanced medical research — Digitizing healthcare data through cloud storage can improve medical research. For instance, studying the historical data of a certain disease can help researchers develop more effective treatments. This would only be possible with a vast data repository and a quick, precise way to analyze it.
Top benefits of cloud computing in healthcare
Let’s look at the main reasons why so many healthcare providers are turning to cloud solutions:
Virtually unlimited data storage
The healthcare industry generates approximately 30 percent of the world’s data volume. According to the World Economic Forum, hospitals alone gather 50 petabytes of data every year. Healthcare data comes from an ever-growing list of sources such as labs, researchers, personal devices, imaging, and patient records. The cloud is the only practical data storage solution for such massive volumes of data.
Low computing costs
One of the main drivers for cloud adoption in healthcare is cutting costs. Cloud workloads run on a much smaller IT footprint, meaning healthcare providers don’t have to invest heavily in and maintain their own computing infrastructure. Also, cloud users only pay for what they need via fixed subscriptions, which helps optimize and stabilize IT spending.
Easy flexibility and scalability
The cloud provides hassle-free scalability and flexibility, which improve business agility. Cloud users can quickly scale the cloud’s capacity to match usage demands. Dialling cloud performance up or down may be as simple as clicking on a button or switching between service packages.
Dependability and security
Most cloud providers guarantee 99.99 percent uptime. This means very low chances of downtime. And in many aspects, the cloud is much more secure than other data storage options. For instance, the distributed nature of cloud storage makes the data virtually immune to sabotage, natural disasters, and resource outages.
Streamlines patient care
All the business advantages made possible by the cloud, such as intelligent data analysis, telehealth, low IT overheads, and secure data storage, lead to benefits for the patient. Ultimately, cloud computing streamlines the provision of healthcare. The patient benefits from cheaper healthcare solutions, more effective treatment, personalized care, convenience, faster services, and better drugs.
Risks of cloud computing in healthcare
While cloud adoption in healthcare organizations may seem like a no-brainer, there are valid concerns in the healthcare community about storing data and working through cloud services. Common risks and problems of cloud use in the healthcare industry are:
- Cloud implementation: Handling the migration, porting data, configuring the cloud environment, and choosing the right cloud platforms.
- Cloud management: legacy IT governance, cost efficiency, use case optimization, and solutions implementation.
- Compliance with data safety regulations: Handling sensitive patient data on the cloud while adhering to data safety and privacy standards such as HIPAA.
- Ownership and control: How much of the public cloud can the user actually own and control, and what does that mean in terms of safety, performance, and reliability assurances?
The best way to handle these concerns is by first understanding exactly what you’re getting into. Cloud adoption calls for a strategic approach; it’s not just a matter of moving workloads to a hosted platform. Ask yourself what you hope to achieve by moving to the cloud, what you actually need to do to make it happen, and which challenges you’re likely to face.
Second, it’s always a good idea to work with a partner who understands all these cloud capabilities and risks and is willing to help you navigate the cloud adoption maze. A cloud implementation partner will advise you on the most suitable solutions for your business, oversee the migration process, and provide lifetime cloud management support. Making informed choices during cloud implementation helps preserve compliance, keep costs low, and simplify overall IT management. On top of that, a cloud partner brings the expertise, tools, and resources to facilitate a smooth transition.
Softlanding: Your strategic cloud partner
The cloud offers many benefits to the healthcare industry, providing more speed, better accessibility, and efficiency for both healthcare providers and patients. However, migrating to the cloud and choosing the right technology provider isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly. Softlanding is your strategic partner when it comes to cloud transformation. We specialize in helping businesses adopt Microsoft cloud solutions, from the Azure platform and Microsoft 365 to Windows. Reach out today to begin your digital journey with us.