There are many ways in which healthcare professionals and their patients benefit as cloud platforms are adopted. Here are some of the most important:
Easier Access to Data
Healthcare facilities are ubiquitous. There are big medical centers, small hospitals, neighborhood walk-in clinics, and doctors’ facilities and home offices. Healthcare professionals are active and often visit several in a day. They need access to the same reports, forms, and imaging wherever they go. Clearly, a cloud-based platform is well suited to this landscape.
Sophisticated imaging, in particular, poses a challenge that the cloud is best positioned to handle. CAT scans, MRIs, and other images are bandwidth hogs. Clouds are set up to fluidly handle demand spikes that such applications cause. Other platforms can handle the challenge in the main facility. Cloud takes the capability a step further: A doctor in his home office can receive the same high quality images he sees at the hospital.
The concentration of advanced care in urban and suburban areas traditionally leaves rural patients at a disadvantage. Telemedicine is an old concept, and has had some success in addressing this problem, but it can be so much more in the cloud era.
The potential advantages of telemedicine are clear. The stumbling blocks revolve around stringent privacy requirements. Jude Chao at Enterprise Networking Planet notes that the cloud sector is confronting the issue:
One particularly important area is the choice of cloud hosting provider. A number now cater to the healthcare industry’s growing demand for compliant cloud infrastructure by providing HIPAA-compliant hosting solutions.
Big Data and the Cloud
ZDNet’s Mark Samuels writes that cloud-based analytics will enable quicker diagnose of illnesses. The combination of the cloud and big data also will enable proactive research and, quite possibly, identify nascent trends far earlier than was possible in the past.
The marriage of the cloud and big data is a big deal – and another area in which healthcare is a big winner. In 2011, IBM Watson, a “cognitive computing” platform, defeated Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings. It actually did so rather easily. It was a big deal then – and turned out to be far more than a primetime sideshow. IBM has distributed Watson’s capabilities in the cloud and commercialized its big data capabilities. It is active in a number of areas, including healthcare.
IBM this spring introduced Watson Health. InformationWeek’s William Terdoslavich wrote that the business unit will provide the Watson platform to “about a dozen” institutions for help in genomic-based cancer treatments. The company also introduced a program in which development partners can contribute to the platform, Terdoslavich wrote.
IBM Watson, and cloud-based platforms like it, will have tremendous impact on medicine. Two examples: (1) Drug trials generate mountains of data and often are geographically dispersed. A cloud-based cognitive computing platform can boil down to the core of the drug’s safety and efficacy. (2) Thousands of journal articles are published each year. A practitioner can only read a handful. A cognitive computing platform can go through them all, and pass on the salient information to the professional.
Cloud computing is a potent and powerful tool in general. Its particular attributes fit perfectly with healthcare on a number of levels: Bringing services to rural and/or isolated patients, storing records for speedy retrieval in case of emergency, ongoing trend analysis to recognize pandemics and other dangerous conditions earlier and with better clarity and for deep and long term analysis of data.
Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecommunications writer. His work most often posts at IT Business Edge and Broadband Technology Report. He also runs a music website, The Daily Music Break. More information can be found at Weinschenk Editorial Services. He is on Facebook and Twitter.