Health Care Technology Impact: Cloud Computing

As a final year student of Health Care UST MBA cohort 18, I have been challenged with in-depth knowledge regarding the current health care system and the various problems that still exist, such as the rapidly-increasing health care costs, number of uninsured individuals, questionability of the ongoing health care reform, shortage of primary care physicians, etc. The new age of increasing technological advancements, though phenomenal and advantageous, has also brought with it more complexity and problems to resolve, most especially in the health care industry.

A key part of the health care reform involves the use of technology to address a number of health issues such as access, value and cost. Hospitals, if not fully transitioned yet, are now transitioning from paper records to Electronic Medical Records (EMR), a digital and portable version of the medical records used in health care systems that allow storage, retrieval and easy modification of records. To support health reform’s goal of collecting data on providers, determining what treatments are improving outcomes, linking care to payments, determining quality measures, etc., computer support systems are being used everywhere. Increased medical knowledge has brought about more technological advancements in treatment and devices that require computer support. Increases in medical/research data has brought about the need for highly complex computer support systems to analyze and retrieve information. The increase in patient-centric care and social media popularity has also required health care systems and providers to become more technology-savvy. The cloud, social, mobile, consumer, apps, enterprise technologies and more are needed, more than ever, to support these technologies.

The Cloud

Cloud computing enables computers and various other devices in different geographical locations to access shared computer services or applications over the “cloud” or internet rather than a local environment. Cloud technology is at the heart of health care’s transformation and health care industries are now, more than ever, utilizing various cloud technologies.. With tablets and EMRs replacing paper medical charts, private clouds are now being used to access medical records and promote information sharing among medical professionals. Cloud health care services are also currently being used to solve a wide range of health care challenges, such as fraud, remote diagnostics and patient CRM.

At the Collaborative’s recent Tech.2012 event, Andy Slavitt from Optum at UnitedHealth Group (UHG) talked about how his company is continuously investing in technology and using cloud technology in creative analytics and open-source technologies. He discussed how UHG has been currently involved with “big data” analytics. With the tremendous increase in medical knowledge and technology, health care systems are now bombarded with large quantities of data emanating from various derived patient information – clinic data, genetic data, geographical data, etc. These huge amounts of data are now referred to as “big data”. UHG has a significant amount of “big data” stored in their databases that has accumulated over the past years that include over 17 million Americans and their health data. UHG is currently using cloud solutions to research this data to ask various intelligent health questions. For example, they are working with researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Harvard Medical School to study autism and answer various questions. This data will be shared publicly in the future.

Cloud technologies are rapidly transforming and changing the way health care information is being handled and processed in a positive way, but it comes with its own problems. Mitch Coopet from Code 42 Software, a company that architects and develops the automatic cloud back-up solution CrashPlan, shed more light on the issues that come along with cloud computing. Security and privacy are the biggest issues. For health care, this is no small joke. Patient privacy rules such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) exists to protect patient confidentiality. The health care system struggles with security and privacy. Andy Slavitt brought up examples of current issues, such as employees emailing private health care information to their private email accounts, using the same computing devices for both personal and business activities, etc. Issues such as these need a solution and cloud technology firms are currently working hard to come up with ways to address health care systems’ privacy and security concerns.

To help with security, various companies have been using identity and access management (IAM) practices for authentication, authorization, auditing  users and leveraging VPN and cloud technologies to provide that needed extra secure layer in their cloud technology. More needs to be done to ensure that only the right people are able to see and access information shared in the cloud as these technologies evolve. Another problem I have noticed while working in the health care industry is the need for more education and training for health care workers, so that they can understand how to use these technologies more effectively and across different platforms in order to be more productive. There is a need for more tutorials and technological discussions on the topic and how it will further affect health care in the future.

Technology will continue to play a huge role in health care and its reform. The more the health care industry can leverage, resolve pending issues, and utilize these new technology trends in an effective manner, the better for patients and all parties involved in health care.

Rex Njoku is a Genetic Statistics and Bioinformatics System Programmer at the Mayo Clinic. His experience in the biological computing and engineering field, includes over 3 years of working in the medical device and healthcare industry. Njoku’s interests include demystifying complex computational algorithms/simulations, manipulating big data and working with next-generation health care and medical device technologies. He holds a Master of Science in Software Engineering and is currently a final year student in the Health Care UST MBA program.

This post comes from our sister-blog, High Performance Health Care.