It’s no secret that cloud computing is helping industries large and small cut costs and increase agility; it can even accelerate growth in profits and revenues. What’s less widely known in healthcare IT is that cloud computing can improve patient care.
“Traditionally, the healthcare industry as a whole has been shy about adopting cloud technology,” said Harry Wang, director of Health and Mobile Product Research with Parks Associates. Common concerns have focused on regulation, privacy and security, Wang added.
However, “cloud has become a fundamental technology for many industries, providing the most efficient, most cost-effective way to deliver products, services and data,” he explained.
Today, as regulatory and other concerns are increasingly addressed for healthcare organizations, hospital CIOs are using the cloud in several key ways to improve the care their patients receive.
Secure Storage and Sharing
Making it easier for doctors and hospitals to share medical imaging data is one good example. In the past, such images would typically be stored on paper or film in a locked cabinet, Wang noted. Accessing them was neither quick nor easy, representing an obstacle on the way to excellent patient care.
“Now, of course, we can archive them in the computer, but sharing becomes difficult because it’s relatively unsafe to send them through email as attachments,” he added.
Enter the cloud, which offers a way to store and share such images securely and immediately. Making existing medical records immediately available not only improves the speed and efficiency of patient care — in part by eliminating the need for redundant testing — but can also minimize the chance of errors being made in diagnosis as a result of working with an incomplete picture of the patient’s health.
“The goal is to try to improve quality of care, and data sharing is a significant part of that,” Wang said.
BYOD Convenience and Security
As increasing numbers of physicians use smartphones and tablets in the diagnostic process, the convenience and security provided by cloud technology becomes an essential component HIPAA compliant patient care.
There’s no end in sight to the “bring your own device,” or BYOD, trend: globally, the BYOD market is expected to grow to $266.17 billion in 2019. With the cloud, “you don’t have to have a VPN or local presence to access the data,” Wang explained. Instead, practitioners can access data using the mobile device of their choice from anywhere there’s an encrypted secure connection.
“It requires an easy way to access and share patient information, and cloud is the best technology out there to facilitate low-cost access,” Wang pointed out.
Finally, hospitals are also using the cloud to put the power of information in patients’ own hands, thereby enabling them to play a bigger role in their own treatments and care. Patient portals, specifically, are increasingly giving patients access to their medical data, Wang pointed out.
One shining example is the OpenNotes initiative now used by Kaiser Permanente and others to give patients access to their doctors’ notes, he added. The Mayo Clinic, meanwhile, reportedly has more than 400,000 patients with online portal accounts across its Rochester, Minn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Scottsdale, Ariz., locations.
In fact, a full 82 percent of the nation’s 375 “most wired” hospitals now allow patients to check test results via a portal, according to a recent survey; 53 percent use a portal to offer patients with chronic conditions access to self-management tools. Mobile apps for accessing a patient portal are available at 58 percent of these wired hospitals, the survey found.
It’s all part of increasing patient engagement, and the cloud is playing a key role.
“Technology arms patients with information,” noted David B. Nash, MD, MBA and founding dean with the Jefferson School of Population Health, in an interview with Transformative Health. “It’s always better in my experience to have a more educated patient, as it almost always has a positive effect on outcomes.”