Posted onin Leadership/Management
While cloud computing is not new to the healthcare industry, there is a genuine reluctance to exploit the technology very fully. A principal factor in this reluctance is the need to insure privacy according to legal mandate. There has certainly been a link forged in the media between privacy headaches and the cloud, but is it actually the case that cloud computing and privacy are intrinsically incompatible?
According to security expert Mark D. Ryan, the answer is no. He holds, “Current research aims to develop technologies that can give users guarantees” of strict adherence to privacy policies (http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2011/1/103200-cloud-computing-privacy-concerns-on-our-doorstep/fulltext). Scott Lundstrom (Group Vice President, IDC Health Insights) has enumerated an impressive list of these technologies as the government has inspired them, and it is clear that the healthcare industry would be benefitted by taking heed.
Privacy concerns lead to lower adoption rates for cloud technology. Therefore, as Lundstrom has observed, a number of healthcare organizations have pursued a private cloud alternative. However, a private cloud is expensive and small and medium-sized business cannot afford it. This is a reality that places the public cloud, with its economies of scale, in a very attractive light.
Sandra Palumbo (Research Fellow, The Yankee Group) foresees an evolutionary process in the transition to cloud technologies for these businesses as they attempt to update their infrastructure within powerful budgetary constraints.
As for the impact of the transition upon CIOs, they will play a larger role on the business side of organizations as technology is farmed out, and Lundstrom thinks security worries will significantly diminish over the next half decade. Yet CIOs can facilitate this diminution by bringing their IT expertise to bear on business management and by setting forth the important place of cloud technology in the achievement of overriding company goals. The movement of e-mail alone to the cloud, for instance, would result in truly significant savings.
But could cloud decisively assist in the kind of cost containment sought in so many policy proposals for healthcare reform? Lundstrom has it that through the reduction of redundancy, better care coordination, and “error elimination” it is quite possible. But he prefers to place more confidence in proactive CIOs.
The US government is a great proponent of cloud, and it anticipates, rightly or wrongly, deep healthcare cost savings by means of it. Fernando Martinez (MS, CHCIO, FHIMSS) believes the government’s faith is well-founded. The ultimate test, however, will be patient care, how the cloud affects that, and this is what sharply distinguishes the healthcare industry from others. Someone in an iron lung cannot afford a service interruption. The only solution, maintains Lundstrom, is “really robust business continuity” procedures.
If it is to go cloud, the healthcare industry will have to work harder and smarter than ever before—in maintaining security, protecting privacy, complying with government regulations, and investing in technology with an informed eye to the future. As long as government-led healthcare reform remains inevitable, equally inevitable will be cloud solutions to healthcare problems, and it will be for the public to decide whether the cost of healthcare savings is acceptable.