Simply put, cloud computing in healthcare is the act of managing data located on remote servers (the “cloud”) via the internet. That data ranges from patients’ medical records, providers’ contact info, to the number of medical tablets on order for the surgical department. In the past, paper files and records were used; unfortunately, they could be easily misplaced, destroyed or stolen. With the advent of computers, most of that information moved to in-house PCs and data centers with servers. 

Now medical organizations are increasingly migrating their data to the cloud. Expense, scalability, security, and connectivity are four major reasons leading to this trend of cloud computing. 

Cloud Computing Lowers Expenses, Frees up IT

Medical offices generate an enormous amount of electronic data. In-house computer systems have limits on data capacity which can quickly and easily be reached. Expanding such systems is expensive: on the conservative end, client-server configurations can cost $40,000 or more just to get set up, nevermind expenses from licensing fees, updates, and software patches. Also, all that hardware takes up a substantial amount of space, a valuable commodity especially for small and medium-sized medical practices. 

There are also labor costs. Healthcare IT staff must be on-site and available to set up the in-house systems, maintain them, and make any necessary repairs and updates. Such staff can strain already tight budgets suffered by many medical offices. On-site maintenance also pulls technicians from vital tasks like trouble-shooting medical devices to setting up workstations on wheels for the nursing staff. 

Cloud computing addresses both issues. Providers of cloud-based computing services like a Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, house all the necessary hardware and software at their location. Thus medical offices save on having to purchase the expensive systems and equipment. Payment for cloud computing is via a subscription-service, which is a fraction of the costs compared to in-house solutions. Office space, too, is freed up which can then be used for healthcare purposes like a new examination room. 

With no on-site systems to constantly maintain, there’s no need for a large IT staff. This, again, saves on costs. And the remaining IT staff on hand can direct their time and full attention on other, more important projects like setting up medical computers to the anesthesia machines. 

How Cloud Computing Grows with Data (Scalability)

Because the healthcare environment is constantly changing, medical offices need to be able to increase or decrease their data storage and services as needed. This is called scalability. 

Scalability is expensive in equipment, time, and labor. Offices with in-house network client-network systems, as mentioned above, are limited by their hardware. As they begin to run out of storage space, they must carefully gauge their needs, and pay for the additional equipment as well as labor costs. The consequences can be quite severe if they’re wrong, e.g., the on-site servers go down, taking the entire office network with them.

Cloud computing, being done off-site by a vendor, gives medical offices the flexibility to scale quickly, easily, and inexpensively. Volume of patients up due to the flu season? Not a problem. Just notify the cloud provider who’ll then make the necessary adjustments. Adding a new medical office? Again, just let them know. Many such companies make sure they have the latest hardware and software solutions to meet their clients ever-changing needs. Also, with clients ranging from solo practitioners to massive healthcare organizations, they can use economies of scale to keep costs low for everyone. 

Increased Reliability, Cybersecurity with Cloud Computing

In healthcare, the right information can literally be a matter of life or death. It’s essential, then, for medical offices to prevent any downtime of the network. They may lose all that data and/or associated applications if the on-site equipment and networks go down for any reason, e.g., software issues, natural disasters like local fires, floods, etc. 

Cloud computing helps minimize such scenarios. That’s because their data is backed up securely in multiple locations. The medical office staff should always be able to have access to the data as long as they can log onto the Internet.

Besides preventing data loss, cloud computing offers another advantage: cybersecurity. Healthcare data, especially patient information, is highly confidential. It’s important it’s secure from unauthorized personnel. While on-site medical computers can be equipped with necessary security features like built-in RFID readers and Imprivata single sign-on, there are limits, especially against network hackers. In-house HIT staff may not always be up-to-date on the latest security protocols depending on their workload. Or they may not have the budget to do so. Cloud providers, on the other hand, regularly monitor their clients’ data for new viruses, internet scams, and other vulnerabilities to the systems. They are also in-tune with the latest stringent regulations in healthcare like HIPAA. All this ensures client data is protected with the highest levels in cybersecurity.

How Cloud Computing Connects Anywhere 

In-house client-server networks are designed to work within their specific healthcare group whether it’s a hospital, clinic, or medical office. Clinicians and other support staff thus have limited, if any, access to necessary patient information when working outside such locations. 

Cloud computing poses no such limitation. With the right setup, an emergency room doctor could pull up a patient’s chart on the ER computer. In the past, they would have had to call the patient’s medical office for the information, which would then be read through the phone or faxed over. With cloud computing, the clinician with permission can access a patient’s information anywhere there’s an Internet connection. 

There are other advantages. Clinicians from different locations can collaborate on a single case with ease. They can all access the same information in real-time, and make updates on-the-fly. Telehealth medicine, which allows in-office clinicians to correspond with off-site patients via computers or even smartphones, is made simple and easy. This was illustrated vividly during the COVID-19 pandemic which saw medical offices closed to all but the most urgent cases. Physicians and medical staff were able to stay in touch virtually with their patients thanks to cloud computing. 

Closing Thoughts

Information is a vital part of healthcare, and the easier it is for clinicians and medical staff to access, the better. Cloud computing is the superior alternative to in-house client-server systems especially in lower costs, high scalability, greater security, and increased connectivity among users. Contact an expert at Cybernet if you’re looking for more details for your medical office. Also follow Cybernet on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to stay up to date on this and other relevant topics.