Healthcare Shift to the Cloud Quickens
Among the emerging use cases for cloud and other IT platforms is the digitization of health records, an application with strict regulatory guidelines but a crying need for modernization as the nature of healthcare delivery changes. Getting the digitization of healthcare and the medical records right is critical given the fact that, according to U.S. estimates, health spending accounted for an estimated 17.4 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product in 2013. That works out to $9,255 per person, according to Centers for Medical & Medicaid Services.
Major cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and an emerging group of specialized cloud providers continue to target healthcare applications by guiding startups and other prospective customers through the regulatory minefield that governs the emerging medical IT sector. The key challenges are developing platforms that streamline the way healthcare is delivered and secure patient data in the cloud.
Chief among the rules of the road are HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act of 2009. The latter was intended to promote the use of electronic health records by physicians and hospitals.
While the 1996 HIPPA law lays out fairly general rules for ensuring the privacy and security of medical records, HITECH regulations outline three stages of "meaningful use" of medical records: data capture and sharing, advanced clinical processes and, lastly, a key goal of the Affordable Care Act, "improved outcomes."
The regulations have spawned healthcare software companies like Epic Systems that have begun developing the IT infrastructure needed to securely access patient data and improve healthcare.
Meanwhile, AWS cites several startups like Syapse and Flatiron Health that are using its cloud platform to develop new healthcare delivery applications. The Syapse platform running on the AWS cloud focuses on integrating clinical and genomic data to help doctors make better diagnoses. AWS also promotes its cloud services as HIPAA-compliant, allowing more patient data to be digitized and accessed by doctors in the examining room.
Flatiron Health, which specializes in data analytics and "workflow tools" for treating cancer patients, uses AWS Simple Storage Service with server and transport layer security encryption to comply with regulatory requirements for storing documents and images.
Indeed, the shift to cloud-based healthcare applications is accelerating. For example, Forbes magazine reported last year that 83 percent of healthcare providers are using cloud-based applications. Software-as-a-service applications were among the most popular, according to a survey of cloud adoption in the healthcare sector by HIMSS Analytics. The survey also found that 92 percent of healthcare providers expect to adopt cloud services.
Along with major players like AWS, new cloud providers are emerging that focus solely on HIPAA-compliant services. Among them is ClearData, which along with a cloud computing platform offers cloud storage backup, IT infrastructure tailored to healthcare workloads and other managed cloud services.
Anticipating huge growth in cloud-based healthcare IT, AWS is promoting its ability to scale these services while also securing the application stack. For now, it is promoting "HIPAA-eligible architectures" along with secure cloud-based healthcare applications.