The pandemic’s ambiguity has generated a surge of interest in cloud engineering within the healthcare sector. Research and Markets reported that the global healthcare cloud computing market attained a value of $28.36 billion in 2021, and it is projected to double by 2026.
In this article, we will investigate whether it is a sustainable trend in the field of medical software development services over the long term.
Why the Interest?
The deployment of medical software systems in the cloud provides healthcare providers with a multitude of unparalleled advantages. Although this concept has been circulating for some time, the pandemic has brought these benefits to the forefront, driving the widespread adoption of cloud technologies in the industry.
1. Workload Relief
Before the pandemic, clinicians were already struggling with a significant workload, which had become a source of frustration for them. Interestingly, it was not their professional duties that were causing them to feel burnt out. In addition to performing their regular clinical workflows, they also had to shoulder non-medical tasks such as paperwork, charting, and other administrative responsibilities.
The Medscape 2022 Physician Burnout and Depression Report indicates that bureaucratic tasks are the leading cause of burnout among clinicians, with 60% of respondents citing this issue. In addition to these administrative duties, clinicians also devote time to safeguarding their patients’ personal health information (PHI). Cloud-based solutions can alleviate some of these critical non-medical responsibilities, but it is generally the responsibility of vendors to ensure data security, particularly with SaaS and SaaP service models.
2. Better Interoperability
Another frequently encountered obstacle in healthcare is interoperability. Despite the efforts of providers, vendors, and government agencies over the years, this challenge has yet to be universally resolved.
Cloud computing can be a valuable tool in addressing interoperability challenges. For instance, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (located in Pennsylvania) implemented a healthcare operating system (hcOS) in 2019. This system provides a convenient platform for providers and a suite of tools for healthcare solution developers, enabling the creation of a third-party app ecosystem that can integrate with legacy IT systems.
Implementing such a solution could prove beneficial not only within individual clinics but also across a network of clinics. Nevertheless, achieving cross-system interoperability necessitates standardization to ensure that all healthcare systems gather and store data in compatible formats.
3. More Value-Driving Services
Cloud technologies offer healthcare providers an opportunity to enhance their digital services. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a significant increase in demand for telehealth solutions and remote patient monitoring tools.
These solutions heavily depend on cloud technologies for data transmission, storage, and processing. Their flexibility allows providers to quickly scale up to meet demand or scale down when the service is no longer required.
Cloud platforms allow patients to participate in consultations over the internet, utilizing consumer devices such as mobile phones and wearables. This reduces the adoption barrier and enhances the relationship between patients and their clinicians.
Cloud-based telehealth platforms that offer virtual visits and/or home monitoring provide several benefits. They are effective for delivering care and promoting professional communication and knowledge sharing, enabling patients to connect with their doctors online while ensuring continuity of care. Additionally, they can serve as a foundation for implementing a virtual hospital, the new standard for healthcare delivery.
Cloud solutions are also crucial for emergency care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kinetica, a cloud-based platform enhanced with AI and analytics, aided US emergency responders in real-time monitoring of critical COVID-19 data. The tool offers visualizations of crucial parameters such as personal protective equipment availability, hospital capacity, and the number of test kits for hospitals located nearby. By utilizing graphs and diagrams, an emergency response team can make informed decisions regarding patient transfers, saving time and enabling immediate treatment.
4. Improved Data Management and Processing
Cloud solutions provide healthcare providers with the ability to efficiently store, manage, and access large amounts of data as required. This enhances productivity and aids in prompt decision-making. Moreover, cloud-based data management offers another benefit for healthcare: ensuring long-term data retention. During the COVID-19 crisis, retaining relevant data to find viable treatments for the new virus was critical, highlighting its importance.
San Francisco-based Scality is a HIPAA-compliant cloud system that specializes in holding structured and unstructured medical data, with a particular emphasis on medical images, for long-term retention. Additionally, the platform eliminates the need for providers to deploy an additional backup site for disaster recovery, as it provides long-term storage for unstructured medical data.
5. Facilitated International Cooperation
The COVID-19 pandemic affected more than 200 countries, causing healthcare systems to be disrupted. To overcome the crisis, researchers and clinicians worldwide collaborated and shared data to develop new diagnostic and treatment methods. Cloud technologies played a vital role in this endeavour as authors published their findings online, allowing for a large-scale culture of data-sharing among interested parties.
Cloud technologies proved to be essential for patient care during the pandemic, not only for COVID-19 research and treatment but also for other medical needs. Proximie, a UK-based company that uses cloud and machine learning technologies to share best practices and expertise, facilitated a successful oncological surgery on a patient in London, UK, with the virtual assistance of a surgeon from the US. This was possible even when travel was banned due to the pandemic, highlighting the potential of cloud-based solutions to break down geographical barriers in healthcare.
The Post-Pandemic Cloud
The pandemic exposed the unpreparedness of global healthcare systems to deal with emergencies. Therefore, reverting to the old inefficient practices is illogical.
While the extensive sharing of scientific data may slow down post-pandemic, the use of cloud technology for storing medical data is likely to persist. This is because data is crucial, and siloed data can hinder informed decision-making by clinicians and researchers, thereby impeding the delivery of quality care. Cloud technologies can help hospitals and research labs quickly scale up their data processing, storage, and analytical capabilities. For instance, Huawei was able to deploy a cloud-based AI-powered diagnostic tool in an Ecuadorian hospital within just 14 hours.
To Crown it All
The healthcare industry witnessed rapid adoption of cloud technologies during the pandemic. Cloud solutions played a critical role in facilitating many initiatives, including global collaboration, at an unprecedented scale.
The pandemic may have been a catalyst for the adoption of cloud technologies in healthcare, but it is not the only reason. With the growing trend of remote care and its continued demand, healthcare cloud solutions are expected to remain as secure and scalable environments for virtual care. Moreover, their potential for data management, including unstructured data, is truly inspiring. As medical computer vision scans become more precise yet bulky, cloud solutions may become the only viable environment to store such massive amounts of data.