Elevating healthcare services with cloud computing

Healthcare is going digital as a route to improving patient care and use of clinician time. Everyone gains through faster access to up-to-date patient medical history, better diagnostic support, the wider use of telemedicine and video consultations and providing patients with access to test results, appointment booking and requests for repeat prescriptions on-line. Patients are buying in to the change with the NHS App currently the most downloaded free app in England, with more than 30 million sign-ups and a target of 75% of the adult population to be registered to use the NHS App by March 2024. The sector is facilitating it by adopting cloud technology because it enables faster digitalisation and delivers it at a much lower cost.  

Healthcare was named as one of the biggest beneficiaries from cloud adoption by McKinsey & Company in their 2021 report. There are multiple reasons for this. Patient data is integrated across healthcare teams and incorporates sources such as medical devices and smart personal monitors in phones and wearable tech, allowing physicians to have a full picture of the patient’s health updated in real time and accessible anywhere. New diagnostics capacity is being developed to enable image-sharing and clinical decision support based on artificial intelligence (AI). These technologies support testing at or close to home, streamlining of pathways, triaging of waiting lists, faster diagnoses and levelling up under-served areas. Physicians can intervene with proactive treatment earlier and preventive advice. The replacement of paper medical records usefully provides savings in manpower, space and time. 

Payoda report that by hosting their healthcare ERP in the cloud, 88% of healthcare organisations have noticed a 20% drop in infrastructure expenses. The cloud can hold vast amounts of information at a very minimal cost and can be scaled up and down effortlessly on demand so that users only have to pay for what they use. The most significant advantage of using cloud for storing data is the benefit in budgeting and financial management. Organisations no longer need to spend large upfront investments in hardware and overpay for data capacity they might not use (CAPEX). Instead of buying, they can access technology services such as computing power, storage and databases on an as-needed basis together with buying software as a service (SaaS) from a cloud provider saving licencing and updating costs (OPEX). One of the biggest problems is legacy systems, transferring the large amount of existing data to the cloud and or enabling new systems to “talk” to the old systems. Both of these are addressed increasingly by artificial intelligence (AI) powered bots as an interface between programmes and also breaking down of barriers between monolithic programmes in legacy systems. In one healthcare setting, a healthcare centres system for elder people in Japan, we achieved performance 300 times faster: processing a day’s data decreased from 27 hours to only 5 minutes; the huge volume of data accumulated over 3 years was processed within 7 hours and there is significant gains in highly automated administrative processes and increased business agility. Typically we see 20 to 30% improvements in operational efficiency and reductions in security risks plus savings in operational costs of 12% and ownership expense down by 16 to 22%. According to a BCG analysis, moving to the cloud can help businesses save between 15 and 40% on infrastructure costs.

One of the early barriers to adoption was security of sensitive patient information, though as cloud service providers now undertake best in class security measures, including encryption,  this has become less of a concern and the encouragement of Government to move to the cloud has reduced most qualms. Hybrid-cloud strategies have offered the option to keep sensitive information on-site while shifting everything else to the cloud and multi-cloud strategies help back-up data in case of the need for disaster recovery. Cloud security can still offer some challenges but most of these are caused by cloud misconfiguration and human actions, mitigated by quality training and monitoring. Cloud service outages do occur occasionally caused by power outage, human error, technical issues, periodic maintenance or, in rare cases, cyberattack, all largely mitigated by backups at other sites. Cloud adopters should always be aware of regulations and make sure cloud solutions are compliant with regulations on medical data storage (such as HIPAA, GDPR) and look for certification such as HITRUST which verifies that a company meets the strictest requirements with handling high risk data.

The adoption of cloud technology coupled to the pandemic experience has enabled a massive spring forward in areas such as the use and acceptance of telehealth, now 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels. Tele-home monitoring, virtual wards and outpatient video consultations have brought more services into people’s homes over the course of the pandemic. This has been shown to help deal effectively with a sudden surge in demand and has a role in mitigating the growing shortages of physician face-to-face capacity. The cloud is also facilitating the move towards personalised medicine which requires analysis of various criteria including an individual’s genes; a patient’s genome sequence alone has 200GB of data so the cloud proves helpful in storing this massive data pool and allowing collaboration from anywhere within the care team. 

The cloud is enabling healthcare to evolve and is helping to address the challenges of budgets, manpower and other resource shortages while treatment and expectations grow exponentially. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) coupled with human ingenuity will deliver ever more sophisticated and personal medical intervention options. Addressing these within constrained resources will only be possible with effective cloud strategies.

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Chu Canh Chieu is Managing Director of Global Healthcare Centre at FPT Software. After studying at Hanoi University of Science and Technology, he joined the company in 2006 as a developer before taking on multiple managerial roles. In 2016, he was appointed Business Unit Leader and gained success in developing the business unit in terms of both size and operating markets. From 2020 to 2022, he was Vice Leader of FPT Software Hanoi Strategic Unit. Chieu contributed significantly to laying the foundation for the company’s strategic unit in healthcare solutions.

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