Like pagers and CDs, servers in health centers and hospitals will soon become obsolete. However, despite reasonable arguments, only a minority of medical facilities still use cloud solutions. Why? The most common reasons include budgetary limitations. Many facilities made considerable IT investments in recent years and cannot afford a shift to cloud solutions. Or they are obliged to maintain the solution they implemented for several years because it is required by the entity co-financing their project. Another powerful barrier is logistics – a shift to the cloud means an additional administrative burden that medical facilities could not take on during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is all about changing the mind-shift
There are also many myths about the cloud, for example, regarding the high prices. Even though a simple cost comparison may suggest that storing data in the cloud is more expensive than buying a local server, the cloud is a better solution in the long run. Despite GDPR-related concerns of the European health providers, there are no contraindications for storing electronic health records in the cloud, provided that the data is not transmitted outside the European Economic Area (EEA).
However, these doubts show that legal frameworks must be amended to speed up adapting solutions based on collecting and processing data in the cloud.
The cloud is also gaining an advantage due to the growing risk of cyberattacks. Many a time, storing backup copies in the cloud has been a lifesaver for facilities attacked by hackers who blocked access to data on the local server.
Benefit 1. Simplification of the IT infrastructure and its management
Similarly to any other outsourcing, storing data in the cloud means that the cloud solution provider takes over administrative and logistics tasks. Health providers do not need to have their own server room, buy and maintain servers or update hardware resources. These tasks can be a real burden to the IT department, which needs to pay a lot of attention to the maintenance of local resources rather than dealing with strategic digital development.
Benefit 2. Quick start and flexibility
The cloud works well in all facilities, but sole medical practitioners who do not have IT support appreciate its advantages even more. When a medical facility chooses SaaS (software as a service), the cloud provider can take over all tasks related to system administration. It is not necessary to build a network or install the system on computers. The database can be accessed from every device included in the IT ecosystem, so the patient’s data is always where it needs to be.
Benefit 3. Scalability and digital maturity
When electronic health records (EHR) and picture archiving and communication systems (PACS) are implemented, every new element in the digital ecosystem leads to a sharp increase in the demand for storage space. Instead of buying new servers, the health provider just contacts the cloud service provider and orders additional storage. The cloud does not restrict further growth in any way, especially since new medical devices are usually ready for a safe integration. As a result, the digital ecosystem becomes easily scalable and the facility can easily add new elements to its IT infrastructure.
Benefit 4. Secure EHR exchange and scientific collaboration
The cloud supports the activities of medical centers with research facilities. The ease of analyzing large sets of anonymous data allows medical facilities to expand the scope of their research. It leads to novel possibilities for establishing national and international collaboration on research projects. European Health Data Space (EHDS), a new project supported by the European Commission, will soon facilitate the opportunities for secondary use of data for scientific purposes.
Benefit 5. Higher security even in a hybrid model
Storing data backed up in real-time outside the facility’s network is essential from the perspective of cyber security. Even if hackers break through other data security layers, a current copy of the database makes it possible to quickly recover operations without losing data that are of strategic importance for the security of patients and processes.
Benefit 6. Development and emergency preparedness
The cloud is more than just a more flexible way of storing data. It is a new strategic approach to healthcare that allows medical facilities to develop coordinated care concepts, launch creative digital services for patients, and develop new or integrate existing models of care based on free access to data. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, medical facilities had to switch to virtual appointments overnight. Such a rapid modification of system architecture caused by changes in the surroundings is much easier when data is stored in the cloud.
Benefit 7. Outsourcing hard-to-find human resources for operational stability
Medical facilities have a growing problem with finding IT specialists. Qualified employees are absorbed by big tech companies and startups, which can offer much better salaries than the health sector. Staff shortages in the IT industry will worsen in the following years. When it is difficult to guarantee the continuity of employment, it is worth outsourcing some IT-related responsibilities.
Collaborative health ecosystem
In healthcare, cloud storage still raises many doubts. They stem mainly from the fact that it is a relatively new solution, which requires changing the long-term habits of using local servers and data stored within the walls of medical facilities.
However, it is a fact that cloud solutions are becoming the standard in every aspect of life, and healthcare will not be an exception. Cloud computing unlocks new potential for data in healthcare – scalability and flexibility delivered in the cloud help improve digital maturity, healthcare providers get connected.