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Thursday, 18 September 2014 15:33

Cloud and healthcare: What the cloud and big data can offer the healthcare market

Posted By  John MacMillan

John MacMillan looks at why healthcare organisations should be utilising cloud to exploit the potential of big data.


Big data is arguably the most important asset to organisations of all sizes, in every industry and in any given location. For IT leaders operating in the private sector to those serving within the public sector, structured, semi-structured and unstructured data presents incredible opportunities to gain insight, visualise trends and make decisions.

And as most major markets become increasingly competitive and saturated, big data offers businesses the potential to level the proverbial playing field if they can control, understand and exploit the available information. Although strategies that invariably achieve success are the ones that invest in cloud to help harness the potential of big data.

A healthy cloud

The healthcare sector, in particular, is one that should be embracing the cloud to realise the substantial benefits data can enable. Although the health service budget has been ring-fenced by the government over the last four years, it is well known that more funding is required to keep pace with inflation and to cater for the demand for enhanced patient experiences. Therefore, although technology and health have achieved success hand-in-hand for years, any board investments in cloud must represent a clear return on investment.  

Concerns over the reliability, speed and security of cloud have traditionally meant the health sector has remained reserved over investing in the service. However, its success within financial institutions, which operate in environments with similarly strict regulations governing the use of digital data, appears to have reduced scepticism.

The 2014 HIMSS Analytics Cloud Survey discovered that more than 80% of healthcare organisations are now using cloud. The same research of 150 healthcare IT professionals – CIOs or IT directors – found that only 6% of respondents said they wouldn’t embrace some form of cloud computing in the foreseeable future. And finally, according to the research firm Markets and Markets, the healthcare cloud market is expected to grow to $5.4 billion by 2017. It’s no secret that cloud usage, in particular private cloud, in the sector is definitely on the rise.

 

Data in the healthcare industry

Although the term big data has become somewhat of a buzz phrase, it can actually be quite a misleading concept. Organisations are already sitting on a mountain of ‘smaller data’ which is there to be analysed and interpreted by a combination of creative people and data analytics. There certainly isn’t a shortage of data in the world; in fact research firm IDC found that it is actually increasing by 40% year-on-year. Therefore, the problem is more how organisations can store and mine it effectively in order to determine real business decisions.

The shortage of data analytics is a problem in itself. Although there are tools like Hadoop which is great at correlating and interpreting data, the challenge remains over how to store data which is coming into businesses at an unprecedented velocity.

The cloud offers a cost-effective alternative for healthcare organisations as they look to ditch outdated and costly IT infrastructures for services that improve efficiencies. And the adoption of cloud across the sector is anticipated to increase as the core industry infrastructure in healthcare is currently either non-existent or lacking investment.

The link

Healthcare IT leaders should be looking at the cloud as a chance to alleviate the burden on in-house resources and exploit the available information. It’s vital that high amounts of data, including patient records and medical images which currently reside in CRM systems and physician notes, are stored effectively to enable improved performance.

Given cloud is highly scalable, it can be tailored to meet each organisation’s respective requirements, so if a new piece of hardware is purchased which increases data volume, cloud capacity can be scaled to cater for the extra demand.

Storing it through a private cloud platform will also enable collaboration and allow professionals to upload and share information in real-time with anybody possessing a secure access connection. At Daisy we would suggest deploying a N3 Private cloud - a segregated compute, storage and management platform. The framework would be constructed to allow access according to need, but also at multiple levels dependent on ownership or agreed governance for Department of Health-specific projects.

By giving healthcare professionals across the world the ability to view and analyse secure shared data, the chances of a speedier and effective diagnosis are significantly improved.

For nurses in particular, cloud computing allows them to access information on patients - such as any allergies or past medications - that is stored in a central location quickly, ensuring errors are reduced. These benefits will ultimately help enable organisations to exploit big data, improve their standards and move into the realm of ubiquitous healthcare.

It’s important when considering cloud that organisations take security seriously and ensure stringent process are in place to access the data, helping prevent any disastrous scenarios. That is why a private cloud is the safest option; one which uses the best principles from both HSCIC IGT and recognises future transition to PSN, the application of appropriate controls as defined by CESG for the treatment of official or official sensitive protectively marked data.


Looking ahead to the future

As initial concerns over storing data in intangible spaces continue to decrease, expect more healthcare organisations to take up cloud-based services over the next couple of years. Google Director, Larry Page, even claimed that data-mining healthcare information could save 100,000 lives next year. While slightly ambitious, it is obvious that data that is correctly stored and made accessible to the right people can help enhance the patient experience.

The key to cloud’s success within the sector, as with any new technology, is to make it usable for the people that need to access the information. With the right training, the combination of technology, data and good old human creativity can ultimately lead to an improved healthcare system.

 

About the author

John MacMillan is Head of Daisy Health, where he is responsible for developing and deploying appropriate IT and communications solutions to healthcare organisations. Prior to joining Daisy Group, John held a similar role at Azzuri Communications and also spent time as the Sales Director at Annodata.

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