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On Cloud Nine as Remote Computing Transforms Health Care Industry

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Medical gear

(Rawpixel, Pixabay)

Arun Gowda

19 July 2018. Health care is perhaps among the few industries that have not yet entirely been transformed by the power of cloud computing. This is while others race ahead and become far more efficient and profitable after migrating their systems to banks of servers around the country or, indeed, the world. But there’s good reason for it: the health care industry presents a number of challenges, especially surrounding the processing of large amounts of personal and highly confidential patient data and other information.

But change is on the way and it’s being driven by the many problems facing health care systems around the world, including their requirement to be GDPR-compliant.  And it comes amid a new projection, made earlier in July, that the health care cloud computing market is expected to soar $11 billion by 2022.

Current health care issues primarily revolve around having fewer resources, including funding and staffing, while coming under increased pressure to deliver ever-higher levels of patient care and services. It’s becoming clear that the old legacy systems of the past, that are still in operation today, are not up to the task and are holding health care facilities back in their quest to become world-class providers of medical services and care.

Now, it’s no longer so much about running individual, on-site IT operations, but migrating it all to the cloud. For health care firms in such places as Germany, for example, where medical confidentiality is enshrined in law, this can pose particular challenges. Fears that this information might go astray or be stolen have not been assuaged by recent high-profile hacks of consumers’ data at major global corporations. But with cloud computing firms typically providing higher levels of cyber-security than in-house operations and constantly upgrading them to ward off threats, the health care industry is taking advantage of lower-cost, access-anywhere web-based services and vast amounts of storage for their enormous amounts of patient records and other files.

Cautious moves to the cloud

While many private health care firms have transitioned their operations to cloud computing, state-run health care providers have adopted a more cautious approach. However, earlier this year, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), the enormous state-funded health care system that provides free services to UK citizens, began making the move to the cloud — and became among the first such national health body to do so.

In England alone, the NHS treats more than 1 million patients every 36 hours, generating vast amounts of data that includes vital patient records. The service employs over 1.5 million people, making it one of the largest employers in the world. Overall, it has a budget in the region of £116.4 billion, with an occasional injection of billions more from the government when resources are stretched and the crisis-hit service is running out of funds.

So it’s not only patient data that’s essential in the running of the NHS, but also the sheer volume of administrative tasks required by such a gigantic organization. The pressure is made worse by increasing demands that the service become more efficient in terms of its use of funds and the services it provides, in addition to providing top-level treatment and care.

Reducing the IT risks

Running in-house IT systems also poses substantial risks for health care organizations. Let’s not forget that it was the NHS that was hit by the WannaCry cyber-attack last year because its computers were operating out-of-date software, which gave nefarious hackers the chance to launch their ransomware attack. The digital strike had a devastating impact on the much-admired service and led to the cancellation of thousands of operations and appointments as the NHS struggled to recover its network.

Indeed, it’s been estimated that ransomware costs individual firms as much as $713,000, on average. Instead of spending large amounts of time and effort trying to identify threats themselves and respond to them, cloud computing could provide firms with the essential protection they require. “Cloud helps security operations respond quicker to threats and focus on business risk, as opposed to spending countless hours researching threats and trouble-shooting aging on-premises systems,” Nick McQuire of research firm CCS Insight said.

With this and other critical advantages for health care firms moving to cloud computing, as they seek to relieve pressure and improve their services, it seems certain that this off-site technology is just the prescription for health they need.

Dr Arun Gowda is a director at Swiss-based phamax AG, where he develops unbiased and comprehensive understanding of local issues through scientific frameworks to simplify and resolve issues in access to health.

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