By Steve Deaton
MDD Perspectives Contributing Writer
Editor’s note: Steve Deaton is the vice president of sales at Viztek, a provider of complete digital software and hardware imaging solutions for the med-tech industry.
In healthcare there is an evolving trend of making data accessible and easily sharable, and this change is being enabled through cloud-based infrastructure.. The cloud eliminates the need for on-site server space and maintenance through virtual servers that are both secure and flexible. A broad shift to cloud services in healthcare will have multiple implications for both physicians and their patients.
The Cloud Brings Changes for Patients and Physicians
Many cloud-based systems are simply easier to use than traditional legacy solutions. These new solutions are web-based, so if users can navigate web pages or Google, they can quickly learn how to use the latest healthcare solution. The training curve and related expense is simply much lower with the cloud-based applications.
The cloud also changes the makeup of different user levels within a healthcare organization. Typically, a company would procure a new server-based solution and then one or two super-users would gain a certain level of expertise with the intricacies of that solution. They are then expected to share knowledge with other users, perform fixes, and to recognize failures. With a cloud-based system, nearly all of the users become “intermediate” level. The super-users still exist; they are just now with the cloud hosting vendor and represent a large group of technical people that the facility end-users can speak to in order to best use the solution. This dynamic drives adoption of the system throughout the healthcare organization, an especially important step for organizations with various regional locations.
Traditional systems that require on-site servers mean that practices or hospitals are largely responsible for keeping them running. They need a dedicated and cooled server room, and are accountable for any problems with the physical hardware. The cloud eliminates these concerns, by eliminating maintenance and various physical risks that could affect uptime.
For physicians, the cloud represents the fast accessibility of data. Doctors can pull up various types of information from their tablet or mobile device, now including patient records. Cloud-based healthcare applications allow information about the practice to become a part of the physician’s daily informational diet. Immediate access to information means physicians can always make the quickest and most informed decisions about patient care, especially if they are not physically present in the office. In the business realm, collaboration platforms such as SharePoint and CRM solutions like SalesForce are fully in the cloud. They enable remote access for staff and partners to communicate shared real-time content. Healthcare is moving toward this structure, where the cloud is promoting the sharing of information between physicians. Such a solution enables medicine to be collaborative, as geographic boundaries are eliminated and consultations no longer need to be conducted in-person. A physician in New York simply provides her Buenos Aires colleague with a user name and password, and they can both view information such as X-ray images in order to discuss an anomaly or the recommended course of treatment.
From the patient perspective, cloud-based solutions provides patients with greater access to their own medical records. Patients are able to access secure systems through the cloud where they can pull their information and then send it to a referred physician or other entity as needed. Another instance of the cloud is in patient referrals, with some companies emerging that will allow patients to ask for second opinions through a cloud-based system that routes their information to a physician of their choice for a flat fee, so they can get another opinion without having to schedule an in-person appointment.
As the underlying technology of cloud services continues to fall, and as security and reliability continue to improve, more solutions and practices will be moving their critical systems to cloud structures. Such solutions are much more flexible, and can feature dynamic pricing which can rise and fall to meet demand and eliminate the need for initial and ongoing capital investments in equipment and IT staff.