The year 2020 has accelerated digital transformation across most sectors, in particular healthcare. Historically, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies have been laggards when it comes to adopting information technology. The rise of on-demand care, facilitation of preventive care, and enabling smarter patient outcomes is driving adoption of next-gen technology such as virtual reality, big data, cloud computing, etc.
With growth in ageing populations and recurrence of the pandemic, investments in wellness are at an all-time high. Digital transformation is driving the business agenda of most healthcare companies. Cloud is helping to lead healthcare providers to innovate more and launch products faster with investing a large capex. Those relying on legacy systems are at the risk of lagging behind their competitors and causing a disservice to their patients/customers.
Along with the advancement of several emerging computing paradigms and technologies, such as mobile computing, artificial intelligence, big data, and Internet of Things (IoT); technologies have been applied in a variety of use cases within the healthcare sector. In particular, the Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT) is becoming increasingly important in Human Activity Recognition (HAR) due to the rapid development of wearable and mobile devices.
Mobile healthcare services have received growing attention due to the rapid technical advancement of sensor devices, sensor networks and mobile data transmission. Healthcare monitoring services, in general, lack the needed sophistication for the acquisition of the large amount of healthcare data generated from mobile users. The overhead of filtering out a large amount of unnecessary data that is not directly useful for the healthcare applications is unavoidable.
The advancements in edge computing have been helping to process data at the edge, thereby increasing the processing efficiencies which transfer the required data to the private / public cloud for further analytics. The hyperscale providers are exposing services such as data, AI/ML etc, thereby easing the usage of these technologies.
The development of 5G networks promises to accomplish the requirements needed for enhancing operations at smart hospitals, intelligent assisted living, elderly care, etc. It will also provide safe, secure, reliable and robust network infrastructure that is required for just-in-time access and cloud computing.
Other trends driving the adoption of cloud in healthcare are:
- Escalation of consumerism
- Influence of digitisation
- Focus on preventive healthcare
- Impact of healthcare regulations and restructuring of financial risks.
Investment in the cloud is essential
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the practice of medicine and the delivery of healthcare worldwide. Ironically, the urgency to deploy social distancing has opened the door to – and created an unanticipated demand for - sustainable and innovative care models.
Under these new circumstances, remote / virtual telemedicine consultation is becoming the new ‘normal’. This new reality, together with changes in patient expectations, have transformed technology to not only improve patient care, drive efficiency, and eliminate waste, but also to ensure patients’ safety.
However, are the existing telemedicine platforms built to scale for the increasing volume? Sadly not. Hence in the last nine months, many of these telemedicine platforms have been re-architected to move and hosted in hybrid clouds to support growth in platform adoption. This is enabling a consult-from-anywhere model for the healthcare workforce.
Cloud platforms enable multiple organisations within the healthcare industry to collectively work on the data and produce better patient outcomes. Medical providers can transfer data between each other through a cloud computing server, boosting cooperation for better treatment.
This was evident from a recent partnership of a leading medical device manufacturer with a dental insurance company, who were looking to leverage the data gathered through their electronic toothbrush. A classic example of IoHT. The data not only helped the insurance company with improved underwriting, but also gave its users personalised feedback about their brushing behaviour.
Health insurance companies are starting to harness the power of cloud-based data analytics to better understand their customers and their own business, as they come under increasing pressure to run their operations more efficiently. Cognitive cloud computing, along with AI, has started impacting areas across the insurance value chain and, in particular, making claims management more efficiently automated. Insurers can update policies in response to new regulations without the added costs.
Healthcare providers consider security of the patient data as their utmost priority. The medical data is not perishable, which makes it particularly valuable, hence prone to more attacks. The healthcare data is also bound by many regulations such as HIPPA and HITRUST. Any data breach can cause a huge monetary as well as brand loss to providers, so security is a top focus area.
Cloud helps facilitate the sharing of healthcare data among providers, supporting each one in managing their data; ensuring a seamless way of exchanging and potentially certifying data between EHR and EMRs; and enabling a unified and comprehensive view of (the scattered) healthcare records for each patient. Security and privacy concerns thus arise in an increasingly cloud-based environment.
Blockchain as a service enabled on the cloud platforms provides the capability to achieve decentralised consensus and consistency, and resilience to intentional and/or unintentional attacks on the patient health records. Blockchain not only provides interoperability of health records, it also gives the power to patients to control the access of their records.
Clinical data storage, analytics and distribution can now all be provided as a service, allowing providers to achieve the same business outcomes at a fraction of the cost. Moving to the cloud puts a significant cost burden on providers, but it does offer greater financial control, especially over an organisation’s IT assets in the long run. Reduced pressure on capex allows greater organisational scalability. The lifetime cost of ownership of IT assets on the cloud, in general, is lower than on-premises solutions.
The returns on investment is not only financial, it also has an enhanced impact on the business performance. Without the challenge of managing sticky legacy systems, cloud tech frees up time and resources for further innovation. Software and platform delivery cloud models deployed in an organisation improves the technology quotient of the employees by giving access to the latest IT tools quicker and in a more cost-effective manner.
Flexibility and adaptiveness
Unlike conventional self-hosted models, cloud computing gives healthcare providers the flexibility to increase or decrease their data storage and applications depending on the patients' flow. Therefore, healthcare institutions can adapt their technology to peak seasons - for example, the flu season where the volume of patients increases - without wasting time and money with the latest hardware purchases or software updates.
The pandemic presented the critical need for social distancing among physicians and patients that drove the unprecedented demand for telehealth solutions. The telemedicine solutions have gained popularity, resulting in demand for organisations to quickly scale up their solutions. The cloud provides the needed agility to organisations by moving operational expenditure (OPEX) to capital expenditure (capex).
With increasing penetration of digitisation in employee medical records (EMRs), employee health records (EHRs), imaging informatics solutions, and other aspects of healthcare; Cloud is a strategic advantage in data storage and management. The healthcare industry generates more than two exabytes of medical data per day. As more and more cloud platforms integrate AI and ML into their services, cloud computing can support the transition of artificial intelligence into mainstream healthcare operations and help users manage massive amounts of data.
With cognitive contracts, machine learning as a service, and big data analytics, cloud platforms can help manage and analyse text, images, videos, voice notes, and other data sets in real time, enabling evidence-based decisions for clinicians. Prescriptive and cognitive care models are enhancing the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment, reducing the number of hospital admissions and reducing the cost of care for patients.
Amidst the benefits from cloud technology, there are challenges to its adoption in healthcare posed by outdated legacy platforms, cost and complexity of new technologies, security blockers, constantly evolving business needs, and lack of skilled resources in the IT organisations.
Healthcare leaders can benefit from working with an industry provider that can help define the strategy for technology transformation including cloud adoption. Healthcare organisations need an understanding of their complete environment and define transformation amongst both business applications and infrastructure functions.
With healthcare playing such a critical role in today’s society and with such high demand across the globe to combat the pandemic, organisations need a means to ensure they are taking advantage of today’s digital technology.