Amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, the interest in cloud engineering in healthcare sparked. According to Research and Markets, in 2021, the global healthcare cloud computing market reached $28.36bn, and by 2026, the market value is expected to double.
Is it a sustainable long-term trend in medical software development services? We explore the matter below.
Why the interest?
Deploying medical software systems in the cloud offers healthcare providers a range of unbeatable benefits. While this has been in the air for a long time, the pandemic made these benefits shine bright, fueling the adoption of cloud technologies.
Even before the pandemic, the immense workload was a pain point for clinicians. But, curiously, it’s not their professional duties that wear them out. Apart from regular clinical workflows, they have to take up some extra tasks unrelated to their medical field, such as paperwork, charting, etc. According to Medscape’s 2022 Physician Burnout and Depression Report, these bureaucratic tasks are the top cause of burnout, with 60% of the interviewed highlighting the issue. Above all those extra tasks, clinicians allocate time to protect their patients’ personal health information (PHI). Cloud solutions can be helpful here as they take some critical non-medical tasks off doctors’ shoulders. However, as for data security, it is typically the vendors’ responsibility, at least with SaaS and SaaP service models.
There is one more common roadblock — interoperability in healthcare. Over the years, providers, vendors, and government agencies have tried to tackle the issue with no universally positive results.
In this regard, cloud computing can work as a powerful facilitator. For example, in 2019, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) deployed a healthcare operating system (hcOS) that is a handy platform for providers and a set of tools for healthcare solution developers. These tools can help create an ecosystem of third-party apps working in line with legacy IT systems.
Such a solution could work well within a network of clinics, too. However, enabling cross-system interoperability requires standardization to ensure all data that healthcare systems collect and store is in compatible formats.
More value-driving services
Cloud technologies can help providers expand their digital services. For example, the demand for telehealth solutions and remote patient monitoring tools surged significantly in the heat of the pandemic.
Such solutions rely on cloud technologies for data transmission, storage, and processing. They are very flexible, which allows providers to scale up rapidly to meet the demand or scale down when the service is no longer critical.
As cloud platforms enable patients to attend consultations over the internet, they leverage consumer devices like mobile phones and wearables. As a result, it lowers the adoption barrier and improves rapport between patients and their clinicians.
Cloud-based telehealth platforms for virtual visits and/or home monitoring combine several functions. They work well for care provision and for fostering professional communication and knowledge exchange, allowing patients to reach their doctors online while ensuring the continuity of care. Moreover, they can serve as a basis for deploying a virtual hospital, the new normal care delivery model.
Cloud solutions also play an essential part in emergency care. During the COVID-19 crisis, Kinetica, a cloud-based platform enhanced with AI and analytics, helped US emergency respondents monitor critical COVID-19 data in real time. The tool visualizes such parameters as personal protective equipment availability, hospital capacity, and the number of test kits for hospitals located in the vicinity. Relying on graphs and diagrams, an emergency response team can make informed decisions on where to transfer a patient to save time and start treatment immediately.
Improved data management and processing
Cloud solutions allow providers to easily store, manage, and access big data as needed. This improves productivity and contributes to timely decision-making. There is yet another benefit of cloud data management for healthcare: cloud storage ensures long-term data retention. In the coronavirus crisis, this point came to the forefront: COVID-19 was a new virus, so retaining the relevant data became critical for finding viable treatments.
Scality, a HIPAA-compliant cloud system from San Francisco, California, holds structured and unstructured medical data with a special focus on medical images, offering their long-term retention. Apart from providing long-term storage for unstructured medical data, the platform spares providers the need to deploy an extra site for backups to be used for disaster recovery.
Facilitated international cooperation
With the coronavirus having hit over 200 countries, researchers and clinicians from all across the globe joined forces to overcome the crisis and restore disrupted healthcare systems. Whenever a new diagnostics or treatment method emerged, authors rushed to publish it freely on the web and share the data with interested parties. This large-scale data-sharing culture would not be possible without cloud technologies.
During the pandemic, cloud technologies became paramount for treating patients, and it was not only about COVID-19 research or treatment. Proximie, a UK company uniting cloud and machine learning technologies for sharing best practices and expertise, enabled a surgeon from the US to virtually assist in a successful oncological surgery on a patient from London, UK, when traveling was banned due to the pandemic.
Cloud technologies were helpers during the pandemic. But will cloud solutions persist and extend later?
The post-pandemic cloud
The pandemic revealed a painful truth — global healthcare systems were unprepared for the emergency. Consequently, going back to the old inefficient practices makes no sense.
While extensive data sharing in the scientific community can slow down, the use of cloud tech for medical data storage is likely to persist. After all, data is king, and when it is siloed, clinicians and researchers can have difficulties making informed decisions to provide quality care. Cloud technologies can scale up the data processing, storage, and analytical capabilities of hospitals and research labs in no time. For instance, Huawei deployed a cloud-based AI-powered diagnostic tool in an Ecuadorian hospital in only 14 hours.
To crown it all
The pandemic significantly accelerated the adoption of cloud technologies in healthcare. In turbulent times, the cloud powered many worthy initiatives, such as international cooperation, at an unprecedented level.
However, the pandemic was not the only driver of cloud adoption. Given the rise and development of remote care and the steady demand for it, healthcare cloud solutions are likely to stay as secure and scalable environments for virtual care. Their potential for data management, including unstructured data, is nonetheless inspiring. With medical computer vision scans growing more precise yet bulky, cloud solutions can become the only environment to store such massive amounts of data.