Now, of all times, there is a great need for patient centricity and this calls for medical document scanning and electronic health records. With ever-growing data of patients, there is a requirement to effectively store and manage it. Ignoring speculations about security, many hospitals and even small clinics make use of the cloud to store and easily access data. According to Accenture, nearly one-third of the healthcare sector is using cloud applications, and the rest are preparing to move to the cloud.
Storing information in the cloud has become so popular that many businesses and individuals prefer storing their data in the cloud rather than on their local harddrive. The data is stored on a server owned by a cloud service provider, such as Google (Google Drive) or Dropbox or iCloud. Beyond storage and accessing, the cloud provides many more benefits to businesses – including cost savings, access by multiple users, and data compatibility across different machines and browsers.
- The first and important advantage of cloud-based healthcare is virtual appointments. A patient can have her appointments made via video conferencing. The doctor in question can access the patient’s health records and images and this results in improved information delivery.
- Public, private or hybrid, cloud computing solutions offer better service than any internal IT organizations, and at lower costs. To do everything physically and internally, a hospital must hire and maintain the necessary personnel, hardware and software.
- You need not worry about the cloud’s scalability and flexibility. Cloud providers can scale up or down the resources as and when needed. It offers anytime – anywhere access to your applications and resources.
Cloud Medical Imaging – Challenges and Solutions
Medical imaging is the technique of creating images of the inner organs of the human body for clinical analysis and medical assistance. With radiography, Medical Resonance Imaging (MRI), ultrasound and many other medical imaging techniques available in the healthcare sector, it is the responsibility of the healthcare industry to keep their patient information safe, and accessible.
The standard image storing systems in the healthcare sector are PACS (picture archiving and communication systems) and VNA (Vendor-Neutral Archives). They archive digital imaging from MRIs, X-Rays etc. after a certain period has passed. PACS has an archive option and VNA is used to integrate image files from various PACS into a centralized and cross-platform storage space. With cloud storage, in just the stroke of a button, you are able to deploy complex algorithms that otherwise would have cost huge (for servers and devices) for the industry.
By 2020, it is expected that the medical imaging systems market will grow up to $50 billion. IT personnel in the medical field are already exploring the numerous possibilities of switching the imaging storage from traditional PACS and VNA to the cloud. New ultrasound equipment has already started supporting direct connection to the cloud.
But as any other innovation, there are challenges and solutions to using cloud in the field of healthcare:
- Quality of the images – As these images are very important to both the patient and doctor, it is crucial that they are stored and retrieved as high-definition. Healthcare providers in remote areas have limited access to decent Internet connection. Both quality (of the image) and speed (of the Internet) are essential when a doctor wants to retrieve, say, a radiology image for evaluation.
- Security – One cannot complain if some executives in the healthcare sector are reserved about moving to the cloud. Increasing vulnerability to data breaches is a major concern and if the health system is prone to it, most of them won’t even consider switching to the cloud. Having said that, an on-premise data centre is vulnerable to damage due to natural disasters, but cloud services will not be affected by any such physical disasters.
However, during any cyber attacks, the on-premise image storage might prove crucial. The cloud can actually recover easier as they are multi-region. As the cloud offers vast functionality, it is always advisable for the healthcare sector to opt for it, making sure that all the data is secure.
- Information sharing – If a healthcare provider is not into using cloud for any of its purposes, then it is, undoubtedly, locked behind a virtual private network (VPN) and firewalls of an on-premise system. This takes huge effort and time for the personnel there to retrieve any records or medical images – a doctor will have to email the radiologist, they have to confirm, there might be some more communication going on until the doctor gets the required medical image. This lengthy and time-consuming process will take place for each patient. Entry of cloud will only ease everything, as one will not have to go through the above process to access a medical image or record.
The cloud, praised as a way to reduce cost and improve flexibility, will be the best solution to storing medical images without having to worry about any cyber attacks. Always go with a HIPAA-compliant cloud provider such as Dropbox and Google Drive. Companies offering medical data entry can advise the healthcare sector on which cloud service to go with.