We will look back on 2020 as a pivotal moment for the use of cloud computing in healthcare. As the pandemic swept away old constraints, digital health innovators rushed in. In the face of a major crisis, providers and technologists worked tirelessly to make healthcare better, pushing change to save lives. Innovation and entrepreneurship don’t come without risk, but they also can provide enormous benefits. Collecting and sharing data via the cloud will enable a healthcare system fit for the 21st century.

This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight. The banking industry for example is reaping the benefits of a major digital transformation that was driven by cloud adoption over the last decade. Until now healthcare providers have been reticent to embrace the same kind of IT modernization. Concerns about security, legal compliance, and potential downtime when dealing with the most sensitive personal data in life and death situations are all legitimate, but can all be addressed. Secure and reliable virtual access to healthcare professionals and data has become table stakes for us to meet our 21st-century challenges and goals.

The case for cloud

Easy access to and sharing of data is an essential foundation for building a healthcare system that works for today’s on-demand needs. Hybrid cloud deployment among healthcare providers is expected to reach just 37% this year, up from 19% in 2019. Most hospitals still rely on outdated software systems that have been repeatedly patched. Building atop shaky foundations like this leads to major inefficiency and frequent errors. Healthcare professionals lose a great deal of time that could be better spent on patient care to these inflexible and unreliable systems.

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The cloud provides unprecedented scaling a, data integration, and access advantages. Doctors with access to complete information on a patient’s electronic health record (EHR), prescriptions, test results, and imaging, are better equipped to find the right diagnosis and identify the best course of treatment. Data-driven decisions, based on huge information sets, can help healthcare professionals and researchers to spot patterns, uncover insights, and deliver a higher standard of care.

Remote access and communication open up many possibilities and allow for greater patient safety. Virtual appointments and consults allow people to speak with healthcare professionals in the comfort of their own homes, which is beneficial for patients who have difficulty traveling while cutting down on the traffic in hospitals and clinics. Fewer people in a facility means better infection control. When doctors want an expert opinion, they can share patient data and discuss it with specialists online. Patients also benefit from better access to their own data, which provides transparency and reduces the need for calls and visits.

Security and compliance questions

While the idea of making information accessible anywhere and at any time offers obvious advantages, there are obstacles to overcome. Potential security risks and concern over compliance has long held back cloud adoption in healthcare. IT staff need to ensure timely software updates, maintain network availability, and institute a regular and robust backup routine.

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Healthcare organizations also need to consider how data will be processed by a third party, examine with whom their cloud partners are in business, and ensure security standards extend to any cloud networks they use. Cloud providers with healthcare experience and an understanding of the unique compliance landscape will be favored as the industry rises to meet these challenges. Everyone should take comfort from the fact that the most advanced healthcare organizations in the world have announced major cloud initiatives after much deliberation and due diligence. Mayo Clinic’s announcement of its partnership with Google is one such example.

Cloud trends converging

The dream of global collaboration relies on cloud computing. Healthcare professionals in different countries can now trade massive data sets easily. While collaboration like this has typically been reserved for esoteric research projects, it’s now being employed to tackle global health problems. We know that this kind of collaboration is an accelerant that can spark breakthroughs for entrepreneurship to spring up.

We are now collecting more patient information than ever before. New network-attached devices, such as handheld ultrasound scanners, present new opportunities to collect data that may help a healthcare professional make a better decision down the line. As interoperability of systems and collaboration grows, physician-facing portals can offer a wealth of valuable data.

Consolidating patient data paves the way for AI algorithms to highlight important trends and insights. Research platforms integrated into clinical applications can trigger fresh approaches and ideas, encouraging innovation and innovative startups throughout the healthcare industry while resulting in better outcomes for patients.

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Cloud growth is inevitable

The immediate challenges of interoperability will be overcome through deeper cloud adoption. Cloud computing makes data accessible, easier to search and collate, and much easier to share.

If the newfound willingness to collaborate is to persist as the pandemic fades and systems catch up with security requirements and regulations, the healthcare industry and savvy entrepreneurs must learn how to innovate at speed while still being conscious of all these different moving parts.

Despite the challenges, cloud computing promises too many advantages to patients, physicians, startups, and the wider healthcare industry to ignore, and the last year may go down in history as the year that proved it.