Technology is transforming the healthcare industry—and motivating healthcare providers to get serious about their own digital transformation. According to Accenture’s Digital Health Vision 2019, 94% of healthcare executives feel the pace of innovation in their organization has accelerated over the past three years. Technologies such as AI-based diagnostic tools, wearable internet-connected medical devices, virtual healthcare visits and cloud-based blockchain security services are revolutionizing the way healthcare organizations provide patient care and manage their data.
Market research firm IDC offered a glimpse of this healthcare transformation in its FutureScape forecast: By 2022, IDC predicts that:
- 20-30% of acute care providers will deploy smartwatch-based applications.
- 40% of healthcare providers will leverage machine-learning and AI for cybersecurity.
- 50% of clinical applications will have ambient, AI-based interfaces such as speech recognition and hand gestures.
- The use of blockchain to enable secure multi-party information sharing across healthcare organizations will increase eight-fold.
One driver is patient demand. Accenture’s 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey found that 53% of consumers would prefer a medical provider who uses patient telemonitoring devices and 49% would like one who offers video conferencing, while 68% want to be able to book appointments online.
The top drivers of healthcare cloud adoption
A second major driver of technology adoption is cost efficiency. Healthcare organizations face multiple challenges that can be addressed by adopting cloud-based technologies. The top drivers of cloud adopting in healthcare are:
An explosion of data
Healthcare organizations are struggling with increasing volumes of data, which is expected to grow at an annual rate of 36 percent through 2025. That’s faster than the growth rates of manufacturing, media and financial services industries. Patient histories, insurance information, prescriptions, doctor’s notes, diagnostic test data, imaging and, increasingly, data from AI and analysis tools all must be stored and backed-up. Adding servers and building new data centers isn’t practical for most hospitals and clinics.
Instead, cloud storage services provide a quick and cost-effective way to store and back-up volumes of data. Likewise, cloud-based content management and electronic health records (EHR) applications give hospitals the ability to manage large amounts of patient information without expensive investments in new hardware.
IT departments are often asked to provision more storage, computing power or applications—usually with a deadline of yesterday. That’s a tough job for any busy IT department, let alone those with limited budgets such as those in small hospitals and health clinics. For on-premises IT environments, adding resources requires additional servers or software.
In a public cloud environment, however, resources can be dialed up or down on demand, saving IT staff the time and cost of deploying resources that may not get full use.
Security and compliance
Cloud security has greatly improved over the past two years. Today, leading cloud platform providers use multiple security technologies. Encrypted communications, anti-malware, identity and access control, DDoS mitigation, breach monitoring and threat management are often either part of the platform or offered as additional services. Additionally, those with experience in the healthcare industry will be able to help customers meet compliance requirements for protecting patient medical information and other regulated types of data.
Another benefit of using the public cloud is the availability of cutting-edge security technologies. One example is blockchain, a promising method for securely exchanging medical data. Blockchain technology, which is based on distributed public ledger and cryptographic security, provides verification of all actions taken on the data. The global healthcare blockchain market is forecast to top US $3 billion by the end of 2026—an annual growth rate over 62%.
Getting disparate applications and medical devices to share data is possibly the biggest challenge for healthcare IT. Many healthcare providers lack interoperability within their own systems or may be interoperable internally, but not with other providers. Research sponsored by the Center for Connected Medicine found that fewer than four-in-ten have succeeded in sharing data with other health systems or mining unstructured data. The main obstacles are the legacy systems and data silos that are either too difficult or too critical to replace.
The cloud offers the most affordable and workable approach to making legacy data accessible to other systems. Cloud-based healthcare information exchanges (HIEs) and EHRs are designed to work with other cloud services, including third-party EHRs, making it possible to exchange data between different applications and healthcare providers. Leading cloud platforms such as Microsoft’s Azure for Health and the Google Cloud provide healthcare APIs to enable data exchange through open standards like Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) for radiology and the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR)
The cloud has a vital role to play in healthcare’s digital transformation, by optimizing data interoperability and providing cost-effective storage and security for the ever-growing volume of data. Cloud services also make it possible for small and mid-sized providers to implement cutting-edge technologies they could never afford otherwise.
As Accenture’s Digital Health Vision 2019 observed: “The imperative has become stronger for healthcare organizations to adopt technologies that create a digital foundation for the future.”
The cloud puts that digital foundation within the reach of any healthcare provider.
See more examples of Healthcare cloud growth
To read examples of how digital healthcare and cloud services are deployed in a hypothetical healthcare system, read Realizing the Potential of Digital Transformation in Healthcare.