Over the last couple of years, the healthcare industry has been through a lot, with the pandemic and the incredible strain it has put on the system, the pressure of rapid vaccine development and issues relating to an effective response to Covid-19. Even before 2020, the industry had enough on its plate: much-needed digital transformation, telehealth adoption and cybersecurity worries.
But it is due to these hardships that the digitalization of healthcare is unfolding at an unprecedented speed today. Technologies are making themselves useful by reacting to the problems we are facing.
How The Cloud Is Transforming Healthcare
If every cloud has a silver lining, for healthcare today, it is actually cloud computing that is making this silver lining possible. Over the past few years, cloud adoption in healthcare can be described as quite gradual. However, the pandemic has accelerated it.
According to a recent survey, about 20% to 30% of work today is done over the cloud. Initially, the plan was to reach 80% in 10 years. But with the growing popularity of telehealth and a sufficient part of medical staff working remotely, the updated plan is to reach the goal in three years.
The cloud has the capability to improve the industry's IT infrastructure, reduce costs by effectively using the resources it possesses and turn data on hand into meaningful insights. Another competitive advantage is the speed of innovation. The cloud is a go-to solution to build prototypes or new features of existing products faster. At the same time, the pay-as-you-go model allows organizations to scale up or down easily, as they are only paying for the resources they are using (i.e., storage, infrastructure, applications).
However, it should be pointed out that cloud transformation in healthcare is not all smooth sailing and there are some challenges that might come your way, such as:
• Security: For an industry that deals with sensitive data, security is a top concern. Even though cloud providers follow the highest security standards, depending on the sensitivity of data you store, you might want to consider a hybrid or multilevel cloud, in which workloads are split between public and private clouds.
• Compliance: This is another top concern for the highly regulated healthcare industry and one that will need a lot of scrutiny. However, it should be noted that this is an equally valid issue for traditional on-premises solutions.
• Culture Shift: Cloud computing brings innovations to an organization, but it also brings ideas that might require some cultural shift, including the transfer of roles and responsibilities that cannot be done without strong management.
If you choose to engage in a cloud transformation, you need to set your objectives and outcomes straight, access what needs to be moved, define your cloud operating model, make time and budget estimations, decide on the migration strategy and run some tests, as well as have a disaster recovery plan before the actual move.
Overall, cloud adoption presents numerous possibilities for healthcare organizations. Although cloud transformation does come with certain challenges, the technology allows hospitals and medical organizations to cover some of their burning needs heightened by the pandemic, such as remote workforce management, disaster recovery, business agility and business resilience.
How Cloud Computing Is Already Helping Healthcare
With the numerous possibilities that the cloud has to offer to healthcare, there are already substantial ways it has helped the industry when it faced one of its biggest challenges: the Covid-19 pandemic.
Early in the pandemic, the demand and usage of telehealth surged. Today, powered by cloud computing, telehealth is equally accessible in megalopolises and rural areas alike. Thanks to these technologies, hospitals can treat patients both online and offline using the same protocols.
This means there’s virtually no difference between a patient admitted to a hospital in Salt Lake City and one in rural Utah. And the results don’t disappoint: Intermountain Healthcare's telehealth program is connected to a 36.5% reduction in mortality in one year (paywall).
By its nature, cloud computing can help bring new products to the market faster and cheaper with flexible IT infrastructure and the ability to pay for the resources being used. When there was a need for a quick solution to make Covid-19 testing safe and secure for both patients and medical staff, cloud computing was able to step up.
By leveraging AWS cloud computing, a Dutch company was able to release the first version of their product in just two weeks. AWS didn’t require huge initial investments, as they were able to scale up when the demand grew. It also helped them meet strict government security demands and create a service that was safe for both patients and medical staff by enabling remote access to the testing facility.
Another significant breakthrough is the Covid-19 vaccine. Moderna was among the first to develop and get their vaccine approved for emergency use with help from the cloud.
The company is now fully cloud-based. Building and scaling their operations on the cloud allowed them to experiment rapidly and easily. For instance, instead of visiting the lab to pipette their messenger RNA and proteins, their scientists can visit a web portal located on the AWS cloud. After launching the Covid-19 vaccine, they are now in clinical trials of three mRNA HIV vaccines.
The social impact of cloud computing in healthcare is quite substantial. Today it is not only helping to transform the industry but is actually making a huge social impact. The cloud was among the leading technologies that fought to overcome the pandemic in numerous ways, from helping launch new products faster and delivering high-quality services via telehealth to aiding the development of life-critical vaccines and making healthcare more affordable. In an industry in which human lives are at stake, the cloud is helping healthcare live up to its name and put the "care" in healthcare.