Cloud computing in healthcare – a promising avenue for the industry’s advancement?

By Anna Choma

Cloud technology has become deeply integrated into our everyday life. You may encounter its applications in various aspects of daily routine without even realizing it. Here are just a few examples: Google Drive, Dropbox, email services, social media, online shopping etc. This technology paradigm delivers various computing services, including storage, processing power, databases, networking, analytics, and more. Cloud computing in healthcare might be a huge promise. Although the general public may believe that it is widely used in the medical industry, it is worth questioning whether this is the case. And what advantages it provides in this particular area.

Cloud computing in healthcare – when did it start?

The idea of virtualization advanced alongside the growth of the internet, as businesses started leasing ‘virtual’ private networks. The adoption of virtualized computers gained prominence during the 1990s, so it’s been an available possibility for a while. However, cloud computing until recently seemed to be just an appealing choice in healthcare. According to market experts, it was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which marked a pivotal moment and transformed the cloud into a pressing necessity.

Companies in the market that relied solely on traditional hosted IT infrastructure and lacked a robust cloud framework found themselves facing operational challenges, especially with the growing demand for virtual consultations and telemedicine. The cloud provided an answer to the limitations of hosted infrastructure by offering a platform to comply with healthcare security regulations, making it easier to adjust to operational work process change. [1]

The current state of cloud adoption among healthcare companies

Accenture’s report The race to cloud: Reaching the inflection point to long-sought value [2] states that 86% of surveyed companies had expanded both the scale and breadth of their cloud projects over a span of 2 years. While 32% of the respondents consider their cloud transitions as finished and are content with the results, the majority (68%) are still in the process of advancing along their cloud journeys. Furthermore, in 2023, a significant 62% of respondents identified themselves as ‘heavy adopters’, a substantial increase from the 11% who did so in 2020.

Transforming healthcare with cloud computing: key benefits and real-world’s case studies

It is quite easy to list the key advantages and benefits to the healthcare industry related to cloud adoption. Among the most important are probably: cloud processing power, higher data security and recovery, improved accessibility, cost-efficiency and scalability. But have you ever wondered what are more personal stories behind those tech words?

A report published in June this year (2023) called Our Health in the cloud. Exploring the evolving role of cloud technology in healthcare by The Health Policy Partnership and the European Institute for Innovation through Health Data [5] provides very interesting real-world case studies.

The European Cancer Pulse was developed by the European Cancer Organization as a resource for capturing and visualizing disparities in cancer care and research. The institution collected and thanks to cloud computing analyzed data from 34 countries. By consolidating and presenting this data, healthcare professionals, researchers, individuals, and patient associations can pinpoint specific gaps in care and identify exemplary models of best practices.

 

Another example: a research hospital group in Belgium faced a challenge: they had large amounts of digitized health data, but their ability to derive insights from it was severely limited (data was spread across multiple servers and locations). The group decided to move all of their patients’ electronic health records and other relevant data to a cloud infrastructure. Following the migration, the hospital team created a dedicated platform.

Result? Database queries are now much faster, with tasks that used to take clinicians 15-20 minutes now taking only 15-20 seconds. This improved ability to conduct more complex data analyses and gain insights allows them to optimize the efficiency of each individual’s healthcare delivery.

Is adoption of cloud technology in healthcare risk free?

While cloud adoption in healthcare offers numerous advantages, it also comes with inherent risks and challenges. We’ll elaborate more on these issues in a separate blog post: How cloud computing influences the security of medical software?

Although real risks associated with cloud adoption in healthcare, the benefits it brings to the industry are undeniably transformative.

Healthcare organizations can quickly deploy new applications and services, adapt to changing regulatory requirements, and stay ahead of the curve in the ever-changing healthcare landscape. Because of this agility, they are able to respond effectively to emerging healthcare challenges, such as the need for remote care solutions during public health crises or the application of AI solutions.