Will cloud computing heal European healthcare?

IDC Health Industry Insights Community –

In the last two week I had the pleasure to participate to the IBM Analyst Insights 2010 in Madrid and Microsoft Health User group European Summit in Brussels. These two different events -- the first dedicated to explaining to the IT analyst community the future company strategy across the various sectors and business areas including, of course, healthcare, and the second aimed more at comparing the opinions of various EMEA healthcare stakeholders on the development of healthcare ICT -- made me think about the evolution and exploitation of cloud computing in healthcare in the last 12-18 months.

As my colleagues wrote in the IDC Predictions 2011: Welcome to the New Mainstream report: "2010 was really the first year in which all the major vendors seemed -with energy -to start building cloud service delivery into the core of their strategic road maps their offerings and of course their marketing ". In healthcare this is becoming particularly clear with the continuous launch of industry specific offerings from the ICT vendors community. For example, in October, IBM presented its strategy for "business industry transformation through Cloud" aimed at identifying which industry workloads have affinity with cloud, which is the currently favored deployment model (public, private, hybrid cloud) and at understanding how cloud will be integrated with existing infrastructures and how to remove concerns about risk management and business models Microsoft since the launch of Health Vault has put cloud in its long term strategy for healthcare, looking at the expanded healthcare environment including wellness and corroborating its cloud offering in the horizontal functions with solutions such as the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) and the Azure platform.

More defined cloud strategy from ICT vendors is also the result of the fact that healthcare organizations' perception on what is right for the cloud is in flux and continues to evolve. In Europe, the aftermath of the peak of the economic crisis has been characterized by serious reduction and optimization of public expenditure, including healthcare spending.

This budget pressure has made the structural long-term sustainability challenges of EMEA healthcare systems even more compelling. As healthcare systems try to become more patient centric, so focused on the continuity of care and delivered through a network of healthcare providers operating out of traditional setting, the need for ubiquitous, flexible and cost effective information systems is more and more critical. Collaboration across the various settings is the mantra, but traditional IT delivery models cannot always effectively support it because of issues of costs, time for development and a lack of flexibility.

A Cloud delivery model is becoming more attractive even for the most recalcitrant healthcare decision makers. As we said cost is certainly the first reason: healthcare organizations are operating with significant budget and personnel restrictions and they need to minimize capital expenditure and optimize operational expenditure. But financial costs are not the only reason for considering cloud. Healthcare organizations continue to generate tremendous volumes of data and content at an exponential growth rate. The real cost of any storage technology is determined not only by the simple cost-per-gigabyte, but also in the level of quality of care as data management has an impact on information availability. To address this need, vendors are developing Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering, delivered through the private cloud model. The private cloud model for IaaS in healthcare is probably a less mature area especially because of the stringent regulation governing health data security and protection. Nonetheless, considering the economic environment described above, and the technical skills and resources that will be required for data and storage management, in the near future, IDC Health Insights, we expect a stronger uptake in IaaS.

Another significant advantage that cloud can bring to the healthcare table is allowing a faster access to cutting edge technology, reducing time for development and deployment for solution thus avoiding long and constraining implementation programs that once completed might not fit with the evolving healthcare environment. Obviously, healthcare organizations opting for cloud solutions should be very careful in establishing SLAs and criteria assuring and enabling future migrations, but these are concerns that characterize also the traditional delivery models.

Another significant advantage that cloud can bring to the healthcare table is allowing a faster access to cutting edge technology, reducing time for development and deployment for solution thus avoiding long and constraining implementations that once completed might not fit anymore with the evolving healthcare environment. Obviously, healthcare organization opting for cloud solutions should be very careful in establishing SLAs and criteria for future migration, but these are concerns that characterize also the traditional delivery models.

EMEA healthcare organizations are starting to deploy cloud, especially private cloud solutions: for example San Raffaele Hospital in Milan (Italy) with a consortium of companies including IBM, has launched a patient-centric home healthcare service that will remotely monitor, diagnose and assist patients outside of a hospital setting. The complete lifecycle, from prescription to delivery to intake to reimbursement will be stored in the cloud and thus be accessible by the patient, doctors and pharmacy staff. The T-cloud project is aimed at completing a prototype for an advanced cloud infrastructure that can deliver a new level of secure, private and resilient computing and storage that is cost-efficient, simple and scalable by September 2013. In Russia the Penza Federal center for cardiovascular surgery is using cloud computing to speed up the sharing of test results and support decision making on treatment and surgery. Audio, video, web conferencing and telephony are integrated via Microsoft Office Communication and Share Point.

From the current deployments we see a faster uptake of the private cloud model, due to the fact that this model meets healthcare concerns in terms of security and compliance. However looking at the longer term scenario it will be important for healthcare executives to keep open the options for the public cloud avoiding decisions that will heavily favor private over public cloud offering. This is expected to reduce the risk of healthcare organizations being locked in and excluded from the benefits of future public cloud developments that sooner or later will also meet the highly regulated healthcare sector needs.

From a bottom up perspective, in a very unorthodox way, public cloud in healthcare is already happening: patients are already using cloud platform when they use smart phone applications for healthcare purposes, or when they participate to healthcare related social network initiatives sharing their personal data and sometimes also their radiography. Healthcare decision makers that are thinking genuinely at achieving patient centric system should start thinking at how patients' attitude toward care is changing and trying to get the benefits (and isolate the risks) from these phenomena. The key question will be how.

What is your opinion on the evolution of cloud for healthcare?

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