Cloud Computing: Changes to Healthcare May Be Necessary for Its Success

For many hospitals and health systems, the question is no longer whether they should utilize cloud computing for their patient data, but when. While there are many valuable outcomes and improvements that may result from cloud computing, such as flexible data environments, actionable data, operational efficiency and advanced IT capabilities, not everyone in the healthcare industry is sold.

According to Tom Loker, previous COO of Ramsell Holding and author of "The History and Evolution of Healthcare in America," there are still some problems with how the healthcare industry is structured that may make transitioning to cloud servers difficult. "More needs to be done within the healthcare industry to prepare healthcare data for the cloud. There are great benefits, but in its current implementation, the cloud is burdensome," says Mr. Loker. Additionally, he contends that the healthcare industry needs to become more patient-centered before the cloud can have widespread success.

Barriers to cloud computing

1. HIPAA. When thinking about electronic patient health information, HIPAA compliance and privacy and security are top concerns. When cloud computing is added to the discussion, HIPAA becomes even more of a concern. "HIPAA was not designed with the cloud in mind. While HIPAA is focused on portability of health information, it was formulated when the transfer of data was only partially electronic. The rules and regulations need to be adjusted for the cloud," says Mr. Loker.  

2. Institutional nature of the industry. According to Mr. Loker, due to the institutional focus of the healthcare industry, hospitals are not in a position to leverage the cloud for lower costs and increased efficiency. "While many healthcare professionals use the term 'patient-centered healthcare,' the authority over patient data is not the patient. As a result there are all kinds of legal and structural problems that can arise with exchanging data, especially on a cloud. Hospitals often get stuck in only being able to share generalized information," says Mr. Loker.

Solution: Patient-centered healthcare

The patient needs to be the true center — the owner — of their data in order for cloud storage to be successful. As a result of healthcare's institutional structure, it is difficult for independent physicians in different specialties to work together without a legal relationship, according to Mr. Loker. Each physician wants to own their patient's data, so they may order repeat tests. For instance, if a patient received a prostate-specific antigen test from their general practitioner, the GP would be the authority of that data in the current healthcare system's structure. "If the patient visited their urologist later that week and the urologist wanted a PSA test, it would be great if the urologist could see the results from the GP's test. However, without an established relationship, sharing the data could be difficult," says Mr. Loker.

"We have to get away from the red tape of healthcare's institutional set up. If the patient was the center of healthcare — the owner and authority of their data — [he/she] could give blanket approval to all of their physicians and specialists to share and view test results," says Mr. Loker.

Benefits of patient-centered healthcare

According to Mr. Loker, patient-centered care that allows the patient to own their healthcare data changes the dynamic of healthcare services and has the potential for numerous benefits.

1. Fewer duplicated services. As mentioned above, if a patient owned his or her data they could allow multiple physicians to view and use their tests results, which could reduce duplicated healthcare services. With the right protocol, a physician should be able to see recent test results and past treatment because the patient owns the data. "When the patient owns the data, each physician that works with that patient will belong to a virtual group that could be completely in sync. You can reduce unnecessary tests because the data is easier to exchange," says Mr. Loker.

2. Lower costs. Reducing duplications will also lower healthcare costs. "When you look at healthcare spending today, 30 to 40 cents per dollar is wasted by duplicated services. If you could eliminate that waste, the effect on healthcare expenses would be significant," says Mr. Loker.

3. More physician accessibility. In addition, the physicians and medical staff who may have spent time re-running tests or re-analyzing results could now treat new patients with the saved time. "Reducing unnecessary tasks, especially those that are repeats, will make physicians more accessible," says Mr. Loker.

Tom Loker served as the Chief Operating Officer of Ramsell Holding Corporation for 7 years. Prior to joining Ramsell, Mr. Loker was the founder and senior partner of Wild Tiger Holding Company and Thomas Loker Consulting. Mr. Loker's book, "The History and Evolution of Healthcare in America," will be released shortly. To learn more about Mr. Loker and/or his book, visit his blog of the same title as his book.

More Articles On Cloud Computing:

Hospital CIOs Get Heads Out of The Cloud, And Applications Into It!
5 Best Practices for Negotiating, Beginning the Transition to Cloud Servers
9 Best Practices For Hospital Data Security in a "Bring Your Own" Era

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