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Published 2021-01-18 08:21:13
The healthcare industry is starting to get cloudy, in technological terms. As more industries across the globe shift towards the adoption of cloud technologies, the healthcare sector also looks to take advantage of 'the cloud' to improve patient care, reduce waste, and improve system efficiencies. According to a new research report by Technavio, the healthcare cloud computing market size is expected to grow by USD 25.54 billion during 2020-2024.1 But while the adoption of this advanced solution shows no signs of slowing down, it still begs the question…what is cloud computing?
What is Cloud Computing?
According to the official NIST definition, cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.2
In layman's terms, cloud-computing allows any organisation or individual to securely store and access information from servers using multiple devices without the need to manage your own servers locally physically. An example of its application is when a person gets a new phone but is still able to log in to their Facebook account that has all their photos, videos, posts, etc.
Cloud computing services fall into 4 categories: infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a service (PaaS), software-as-a-service (SaaS) and functions-as-a-service (FaaS).
Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): IaaS is a model whereby a user will rent servers and storage from a cloud provider on a pay-as-you-go basis. An example of this would be renting a stand or plot and building what you want.
Platform-as-a-service (PaaS): PaaS is a model whereby a cloud provider will provide a user with the hardware and software necessary for the business to develop, test, deploy applications. An example of this would be renting tools to build a swimming pool in your backyard.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS): SaaS is a model whereby a user is given full access and administrative control to the cloud-hosted application that is typically provided on a subscription basis. An example of this is renting a house that is maintained by a landlord.
Functions-as-a-service (FaaS): FaaS is a relatively new model of cloud computing that allows software developers to deploy applications in the cloud without having to manage servers. It breaks cloud applications down into smaller components called 'functions' that run when needed. An example of this would be Airbnb. Instead of paying all the costs associated with renting a house/apartment on a month-to-month basis, you only pay for the place as and when needed.
The Cloud in Healthcare
According to HIMSS surveys and Frost & Sullivan analysis, over 50% of health IT workloads are deployed in the cloud, and the level of comfort of health IT leaders in placing crucial data and analytics in the cloud is high.3 A large reason for why cloud-computing is being adopted at such a rapid rate in healthcare is because the sector requires continuous and systematic innovation to improve cost efficiencies, increase operational effectiveness, and enhance patient care—factors that cloud-computing might help improve.
One way in which cloud-computing is being implemented in healthcare is through digitising health records using cloud-based software. By digitising health records, organisations can provide faster and more accurate billing to individuals and medical aid claims processing easier.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, cloud-based software's have also proven to be beneficial in delivering patient care. Solutions enabling virtual visits are almost exclusively cloud-based, enabling the rapid scale-up needed to meet skyrocketing demand during the crisis. Cloud platforms for virtual visits and home monitoring are cost-effective, easy to deploy, and can often leverage consumer devices like mobile phones, allowing virtual care to break the adoption barrier.
According to Frost & Sullivan's updated market analysis, telehealth adoption overall has been accelerated by approximately two years due to the COVID-19 crisis, and virtual visits market revenue will more than double for solution vendors in 2020 and nearly double again in 2021, with provider organisations continuing to use these tools once the crisis subsides. 3
Current market dynamics have also played a role in the adoption of cloud-based healthcare systems. The health sector has now aligned the market with value-based outcomes as opposed to volume-based. This shift has resulted in services being evaluated based on the level of professionalism, quality, and efficiency, and not purely on output. This form of patient care requires on-demand IT resources that cloud-computing can provide.
The growing number of patients involved in maintaining their health using smart devices has also played a role. Fitness trackers and mobile applications enable patients to monitor health metrics such as heart rate and sleep patterns in real-time, providing insights that are shareable with healthcare providers. The collection of this type of data was previously only possible with physical consultations, but with the emergence of cloud-based software, patients can upload this information to help their doctors make more informed decisions with regards to diagnoses and treatment plans.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted cloud-based technology and big data as useful tools for population health management as well. Since the emergence of the virus, healthcare organisations and consulting firms alike have utilised the power of big data to track the diseases spread amongst populations geographically. Cloud-based services have also helped us understand the nature of the virus to develop rapid responses and support services essential to mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Why Your Healthcare Organisation Should Consider Cloud Systems
When it comes to integrating cloud software solutions, upfront investments in hosting infrastructure, maintenance costs, and other costs related to managing on-site servers are removed. Cloud-computing offers a significant cost-saving benefit as your organisation do not need to maintain its own datasets, thereby alleviating the need to invest in hardware.
Cloud computing also offers a centralised hosting environment that consolidates data from multiple sources. Besides being expensive to maintain, using disparate systems brings a host of potential issues such as data loss, damage, and corruption which cloud-based computing remedies.
Improved Patient Care
The integration of cloud systems for electronic health records makes patient records more accessible on-demand. As most of these systems use advanced data cleaning tools, occurrences such as duplication and error are reduced, thus providing patient information that is more reliable and accurate than paper-based systems.
As mentioned above, the use of telemedicine to initiate consultations is also a valuable tool in delivering patient care as consultations can occur remotely, thus removing the logistical burden of travel. Web-based software also makes it possible for physicians, staff, and patients to utilise mobile health applications and access patient portals to receive important health information, such as lab results, from any location. Furthermore, patients can contribute to their health records with data collected from mobile devices and applications.
Cloud computing offers your organisation the ability to increase or decrease your storage needs in a timely manner. Due to the fact that the healthcare industry is synonymous with producing large amounts of data daily, scalability proves to be a valuable asset that can be used to adapt to ever-changing conditions, without having to invest money in hardware and software updates continually.
Increased Data Security
Most reputable cloud-hosting solutions adhere to strict data security and privacy standards that are set out by governing bodies such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Under the guidance of these regulations and protocols, cloud servers also feature automatic backups and disaster recovery capabilities to protect data in the event system breaches have occurred.
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1."Healthcare Cloud Computing Market by Product and Geography - Forecast and Analysis 2020-2024." Technavio, www.technavio.com/report/healthcare-cloud-computing-market-industry-analysis. Accessed 14 Sept. 2020.
2.Mell, Peter, and Tim Grance. "The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing." Csrc.Nist.Gov, 28 Sept. 2011, csrc.nist.gov/publications/detail/sp/800-145/final.
3.Frost & Sullivan (2020). COVID-19 Crisis Highlights the Value of a Hybrid Cloud Strategy. [online] Frost & Sullivan.
4.Frost & Sullivan (2020). COVID-19 Crisis Highlights the Value of a Hybrid Cloud Strategy. [online] Frost & Sullivan.
Our Group of Companies and Partnerships
Qode Health Solutions is a private company registered in South Africa with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CPC). Qode's majority share holders is vested in Non-profit organisations and fall part of one of 4 group technology-based companies located in Gauteng.