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Cloud Computing in Healthcare

Bernie Trudel, Chairman - Asia Cloud Computing Association, July 2017

The healthcare industry in Asia is in somewhat of a dilemma: ageing populations and chronic diseases are resulting in higher revenues , but at the same time, governments are facing increasing pressures from citizens to reduce these higher costs. In addition, the industry is ripe for disruption, highlighted by the impressive growth of the healthtech start-up community in Q1 of 2017. Like the financial services industry, cloud computing is going to play an increasingly important role for the healthcare industry to achieves its goals. In fact, a recent IDC report predicts that healthcare will be one of the top 10 industries for cloud computing growth over the next 5 years.

Information storage is the low hanging fruit when it comes to using cloud computing in healthcare. The space, time, and human-error savings associated with Electronic Medical Records (EMR) are well documented – even with the use of on-premise IT facilities. Cloud computing plays a key role, as the industry moves to Electronic Health Records (EHR) and ultimately Patient Health Records (PHR). EHR consolidates all records in one system that can be accessed by any authorized medical staff in a health care provider network, thereby necessitating shared infrastructure with multi-organization access. While PHR systems could be implemented on media or a device carried by the individual patient, secure cloud computing access would be much more convenient for both patient and medical practitioner.

In another area, wearables and sensors with their associated smart phone apps and backend cloud computing services are only in their initial phase of use. The popular health wrist bands that can track your movement, your pulse and, in some cases, even your blood pressure are only the start. If privacy and security issues can be addressed, the smartphone apps that collect and aggregate the data from the wearables could communicate with cloud hosted software that sends alerts to the patient’s general practitioner or makes recommendations back to the individual in making corrections to their lifestyles in the short term before visiting the doctor. These communication channels can also be used to remind individuals to continue/complete their medicine course or exercises in the case of physio therapists. Again, this can lead to cost savings both for the patient and the health provider.

The extension of the virtual medical practitioner and telemedicine, is the availability of specialists on demand. This is often accessed via a smart-phone app, like Saluspot and HealthTap. Cloud based video, voice and text conversations are all part of these 24-hour services. Telemedicine is especially useful for citizens in rural areas, where specialists are only available at large distances due to low population densities. For government that are low on funds, the ministry of health can also implement such a program to increase the efficiency of valuable resources and even outsource some of these services to countries that have spare capacity. Ultimately, the specialist could be scaled using artificial intelligence to do some of the routine tasks (e.g. provide X-ray diagnosis, demonstrate physiotherapy exercises).

Information confidentiality, integrity and availability are among the top five reasons highlighted as obstacles for the adoption of cloud. The large public cloud providers have responded by leading with the extensive security and privacy capabilities they have built into their service offerings. In fact, this has led many industry experts to conclude that the public cloud is more secure than most hospital networks. In principle, it has hard to challenge such statements, but the security challenge that many cloud implementations face are at the interface between the cloud provider and the cloud consumer. Often the vulnerability lies in the cloud access method: the device, the network, the software stack security responsibility interface between the cloud and the user.

Lastly, data classification is going to be important when weighing cost of storage and security against the benefit of using analytics and artificial intelligence to develop more patient-specific cures. As the cost of individual genomic sequencing crosses the USD1000 mark, the quantity of data to be stored and eventually used for ‘designing’ individual cures based on the commonalities across populations will be enormous. An ageing population will have increasing demands for specialized cures for cancer. Chronic diseases like diabetes in Asia will need to full spectrum solutions. Public cloud providers are responding with inexpensive archival services but healthcare providers and governments must be conscious of controlling escalating costs.

The Asia Cloud Computing Association (ACCA) is a non-profit organization to accelerate the adoption of cloud computing. It has recently published a white paper on the use of cloud computing in the healthcare industry.

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i. https://www2.deloitte.com/sg/en/pages/life-sciences-and-healthcare/articles/2017-global-hc-outlook-pr.html
ii. https://www.galengrowth.asia/2017/05/03/impressive-first-quarter-of-2017-for-asia-healthtech-funding/
iii. http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=IDC_P33214
iv. https://www.cancer.gov/research/areas/genomics
v. http://asiandiabetesprevention.org/what-is-diabetes/facts-and-figures

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