The U.S. health care system remains one of the most fragmented and inefficient ones on the planet. In fact, many view the use of the term “system” as problematic when it comes to the organizations of health services and health care delivery in the U.S.; a more apt phrase might be “non-system” — that is, a system without effective organization. And as innovation becomes increasingly less about the development of new cures and therapies and more focused on how to improve the quality of care at a lower price point, effectively organizing this non-system is crucial.
Enter cloud computing, which is now entering the health and biomedical arena in ways that may re-configure how we think about health care delivery in the coming years.
The health care system generates huge amounts of data. From patient records to biomedical research to insurance claims, data and the ability to manage large amounts of it is a major concern for hospitals, insurers and researchers. Cloud computing offers each of these players a potentially more cost-effective alternative to traditional data storage and management solutions.
Recent moves from the federal government to stimulate cost savings and greater effiencies in the health care sector have focused on the adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) in physician practices as a means to not only save money but to reduce medical errors and improve coordination of care. In this space we see the role of cloud computing in the creation of health information exchanges. The latter enables health care providers such as hospitals and individual physician practices to integrate EMRs and enable more coordinated care if a patient needs to seek care in another city or from providers in other networks. Cloud-based EMRs are also showing promise as disruptive innovations to traditional EMRs that are viewed as too expensive and complex for small physician practices.
Another driver for cloud computing in the health care space is the growth of mobile health applications and open data initiatives that enable individuals to obtain place-based health information.
Increasingly we find cloud-computing players — including Salesforce, Amazon, Dell, IBM and GE — offering health care solutions in the cloud to address the growing needs of the health sector.
Despite the promise of substantial savings and improved quality of care, there are numerous challenges to address before these cloud-based solutions become the norm in the health care sector. Health data is tightly regulated; privacy and security concerns often impede adoption by health care providers and institutions wary of potential data breaches and conflicts with HIPAA regulations. Nevertheless, given the rapidly expanding amount of health data and the ever-growing need to move it out of the silos to provide higher quality care, cloud computing’s future in health care looks promising.