The basis of effective sick treatment is the complete and precise knowledge of a patient’s health condition. A proper diagnosis is as important as the medical intervention itself. Throughout the last years, engineers have developed many new types of machinery that help to examine a patient’s organism and gather information about its functioning. The introduction of a new technique increased the amount of data generated by healthcare organizations. The growth of data spawn increased the demand for computational and storage capacity. The traditional on-premise model of infrastructure seems to fail in attaining the new requirements.
typesA good alternative is Cloud computing. It has proven to be an effective tool in handling different administrative, management, and research challenges. Read further to know more about what Cloud computing is, what the main types of cloud computing services are and how healthcare cloud services save the modern world.
What Is Cloud computing?
Cloud architecture is a relatively new technology the emergence of which is closely connected with the advancement of the Internet itself. The term usually refers to the delivery of computing services like storage, software, databases, servers, networking, intelligence, and analytics through the global network. The first cloud-like services were provided by the telecommunications companies that offered to learn a virtual private network. Large-scale commercial use of cloud infrastructure started in 2002 when Amazon delivered its Amazon Web Services. By the end of 2004, more than a hundred applications were built on top of it. One of the first Platforms-as-a-Service, Google App Engine, was released in 2008. The Engine provided developers with the infrastructure for the deployment of web applications using common programming languages such as Java, Node.js, Python, and PHP. The third world’s biggest cloud platform, Microsoft Azure, was released in 2008.
In 2021, Cloud services appear to be a huge enterprise. According to Gartner, the global spending on public cloud services is forecasted to reach $332.3 billion which is 23.1% higher than in 2020. Such growth of a market is caused by the wide popularity of cloud solutions. In 2021, 94% of businesses will take advantage of cloud services. The appetite for cloud computing is enforced by the emergence of such technologies as virtualization and containerization. Both technologies are useful for healthcare as well.
Types of cloud computing
Clouds are different. They vary on the model of distribution, infrastructure blueprint, and services provided. None of them is universal and each of them evolved to meet the requirements of a specific business.
The Cloud services may be designed as three main cloud-based architectures: private cloud, public cloud, or hybrid.
Private cloud denotes the cloud infrastructure owned and exploited solely by one organization. A private cloud is usually physically located in the company’s facility. Such clouds are typically built for organizations with high security and stability demands. Those could be government units, the military, banks, and healthcare institutions.
Public clouds are operated and maintained by third-party vendors. While using public cloud services, customers pay only for CPU cycles, bandwidth, and the storage they consume. To access the services of a public cloud, a regular web browser is just enough.
Hybrid clouds are a mix of private and public ones bound together by technology that grants seamless flow of the data between applications. A combination of the public and private cloud makes a business more agile and helps to organize better the security and compliance of the infrastructure.
The current state of the global network allows the public cloud operators to provide almost any service through the Internet which includes software, infrastructure, platform, and desktop.
- Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a mechanism of delivering applications via the Internet. It is a convenient method to receive a working instrument without installing and setting up other programs than a web browser. A powerful computer is also excessive. All of the computations are made on the provider’s servers. The middleware and app data are also located in the provider’s data center. The most obvious examples of SaaS tools are email and office applications. In healthcare, SaaS applications include clinical information systems (picture archiving and communication systems and electronic health records) as well as nonclinical systems (supply chain, billing, internal communication, patient relation management). To operate, an average hospital requires several such applications. According to the Spok survey, 63% of healthcare organizations use six or more SaaS apps. Forbes forecasts that the global market of medicine SaaS will grow to $51.9 billion by 2024.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is the most basic strategy of exploiting the cloud. With an IaaS approach, the customer rents only the infrastructure: computing devices, storing facilities, and networking resources. IaaS lets you bypass the nightmare of procurement and installation of hardware components of a data center and relieves resources for the improvement of healthcare services. Implementation of the IaaS is the easiest scenario of digital transformation. With the IaaS lift-and-shift migration to the cloud may be performed in the shortest time requested. No refactoring of the underlying architecture is required.
- Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provides the software engineers with the complete environment for the development and deployment of their product. Similar to IaaS, PaaS provides the infrastructure, but also the development tools, business intelligence, database management systems, and much more. If you are planning the development of enterprise healthcare software, you should consider the cloud as your primary production platform. PaaS provides all of the resources to maintain the complete lifecycle of an application: building, deploying, testing, debugging, support, and modernization.
- With the Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) the cloud vendor provides the client with the virtual desktop licensed with a per-user subscription. The provider takes responsibility for the backend management that includes data storage, back-up, updates, and maintenance. The benefit of DaaS is the reduction of downtime for IT support. By providing remote IT assistance to the employees, system administrators resolve issues much quicker than with the on-premise infrastructure.
Now, when you are acquainted with the types of clouds, let’s study the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing.
Pros of cloud computing
There are many benefits of applying the cloud for healthcare. These include saving the resources, increased scalability of the infrastructure, better communication between stakeholders, interoperability of the data, the potential for telemedicine, and access to powerful analytics.
- Lowering the costs. By purchasing the Cloud Computing power, healthcare providers eliminate the need to upgrade their own hardware and servers which is usually pretty expensive. The spending for the modernization of both software and hardware is usually covered by the Cloud services provider. Since you only pay for the resources you actually use, the number of costs saved is huge. Marco Meinardi, Research Director within Gartner for Technical Professionals, calculated that a switch from on-premise infrastructure to the Cloud one may save up 50% of the total cost of ownership. Reducing IT costs as the main reason for switching to the cloud was mentioned by 3 of 4 respondents of the Spok survey.
- Higher scalability. Since the computing facility is owned by a major provider, who always has the free capacity, it’s much easier to scale the infrastructure with the Cloud than with the on-premise. All you need is just to purchase more computing power and storage. No additional expenses on transportation, installation, and set up of the hardware and software are required.
- Better communication and information exchanged. With the healthcare cloud application, the conduction of global clinical trials became a reality. Since nowadays more than 4.5 billion people are connected to the Internet, doctors received a rare opportunity to gather data points from tens of thousands of unique testing participants.
- Convenient Interoperability. The integration of data throughout the healthcare system regardless of where it was created is an important condition of healthcare to work. Experts from different institutions should be able to read, modify, and process the data. With the on-premise infrastructure, when every organization used different versions of the software, interoperability was hard to achieve. The use of Cloud infrastructure helps to make the data more coherent. Since all of the data is stored in one place, – the Cloud, healthcare providers, as well as patients and stakeholders, can easily gain access to the information originating from different sources.
- Access to powerful analytics. Healthcare data is a huge asset that requires robust computers to be processed. While the traditional on-premise model deprived many of such luxury, Cloud computing provides almost limitless possibilities to analyze data. Computer analysis of medical information has proven to be precise and accurate, in some cases, even more than one performed by the human specialist. For example, Cloud-based AI is successfully applied for the screening of tuberculosis. By interpreting the chest X-ray, the AI-based tool developed by Google detected active pulmonary tuberculosis cases with false-positive and false-negative detection rates similar to fourteen trained radiologists. The other peculiar example of integration of cloud-based neural networks in health care refers to studies of sleep disorders. The neural network appeared to be more accurate in the interpretations of polysomnography than any individual specialist. The score of the program was 87% versus consensus.
- Telemedicine Capabilities. The possibility to provide medical care services to patients residing in remote areas is one of the great advantages of modern IT technologies. The proof of demand for remote care is a market value of $38,289 million estimated for telemedicine services in 2020. The need for remote care became even bigger since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic which provoked global social distancing measures. The key component of the Telemedicine product, which grants the remote accessibility of medical data is the Cloud storage platform.
Cloud computing risks
Despite cloud computing being a great tool to advance the healthcare system, there are some risks that motivate doctors to treat the cloud with precautions.
- Security Concerns. The same feature of remote access to medical data that facilitates telemedicine care brings also the threat of data disposal by hackers, who are especially aggressive these days. 70% of respondents of the Spok survey mentioned that security issues in cloud computing are their highest concern about SaaS. Those cautions are not unjustified. According to Sophos’ The State of Ransomeware Report 2021, 37% of organizations were attacked by hackers, and in 54% of cases, the data got encrypted by cybercriminals. To protect their citizens’ sensitive information, government organizations prepared a set of demands for the cyber safety of cloud healthcare applications. Those standards are very strict and only a few developers are capable of meeting them.
- System Downtimes. Although the cloud is more reliable than on-premise infrastructure, downtime may also happen. To minimize the risk, a company should develop a downtime recovery strategy and invest resources in the backup facility. With clever planning, the idle time may be decreased significantly.
- Hard to predict expenses. Since with the cloud infrastructure the client pays only for the resources used, the spendings on IT may vary from month to month. Although such a model usually saves costs, the expenses may exceed the planned limit when more computing power is required. Such fluctuation of spendings may be inconvenient for some businesses that lack flexibility in budget planning.
Cloud computing in healthcare
Although cloud computing is a relatively fresh technology, its impact on healthcare is already huge. It facilitates medical research, improves the quality of healthcare services, and optimizes healthcare management.
- Almost limitless resources of cloud computing architecture as well as the centralized management of data are especially useful for clinical trials. A unified platform for the recording of feedback speeds up the initial concept evaluation phase since the opinions are stored in the same place and may be easily shared with all of the stakeholders. The advantages of centralized collaboration reveal even more during the protocol development stage. Because of the remote accessibility of the database, it is possible to conduct the trial in different geographical locations which affects the precision of the research. The other important outcome of exploiting the centralized platform is the coherence of the data received.
- One of the cloud-related disruptors that have revolutionized the medical industry is big data. Insights derived from big data analysis are applied at every step of the healthcare cycle: diagnostics, modeling, and forecasting of outcomes, real-time tracking of a person’s vitals, treating difficult diseases, etc. The knowledge received from the analysis of big data allows ensuring the proper patient care at the right time from the right provider for a fair price. Big Data insights are also useful for investment planning as they reveal new promising therapies and approaches in medicine. To receive those insights, it’s necessary for the healthcare institutions to run the research by themself. There is a number of companies that provide cloud computing consulting and data analysis services.
- Healthcare management. Healthcare is more than just medical treatment. Delivery of quality services also requires clever planning of the supply, use, and distribution of medical resources; and the cloud may help to complete those tasks. A bright example of healthcare cloud management software is Google Cloud’s Intelligent Vaccine Impact solution (IVIS). One of the aims of the system was to schedule vaccination for 4 million citizens of Arizona and provide predictive analytics to forecast the trajectory of the Covid-19 virus. Launched in January of 2021, the platform booked 150 thousand appointments during the first two hours of its work. By March of 2021, IVIS has administered more than 2.6 million vaccines. The other states of the U.S. like Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oregon, and Virginia use Google cloud as well. The success of the vaccination campaign depends much on the willingness of the citizens to receive vaccines. To evaluate the public attitude towards the vaccination, Google introduced the Cloud Sentiment Analysis tool. The platform helped to gather and analyze the variety of data originating from call centers, chatbots, advertising campaigns, websites and apps, social media, and search requests.
Developed in the early 2000s, cloud computing boosted the advancement of healthcare services. Elasticity in cloud computing allowed to scale the healthcare IT infrastructure without major investments. Decrease of spending for the IT released additional resources to spend on the medical research and improvement of the core services. Remote access to the data as well as the faster information exchange improved the communication between doctors and patients and made it more transparent. Introduction of the telemedicine applications made healthcare accessible even for the distanced districts of our cities. The introduction of big data made it possible to conduct global trials and decrease the development time for the new medicine.
Cloud computing consultancy made healthcare management more efficient and allowed to provide healthcare services for a lesser cost. Contact us if you are interested in cloud modernization of your healthcare institution or are willing to develop a SaaS application from scratch!