Last Updated on April 10, 2023 by Ashish
Due to rapid technological advancement, industries are now in their fourth industrial revolution. With IR 4.0, data is produced daily in volumes we have never seen before. Currently, cloud computing is at the forefront for storing, managing, and distributing large volumes of data over the Internet instead of through physical drives.
Industry sectors can benefit from cloud computing as it saves cost, and increases machine-to-machine and human-to-machine connectivity and communication.
It also eases inter-department production planning and optimizes industrial processes which result in increased output. Some examples of industry sectors are healthcare, financial, information technology, real estate, and energy to name a few. These sectors have migrated to the cloud and the healthcare sector is our focus for today.
Various Healthcare Sectors
The pharmaceutical industry discovers, develops, and manufactures drugs and medicine derived from chemicals and artificial sources. The process of researching and developing pharmaceutical products takes many years before it is able to be sold to the masses. The products must also be approved by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure safety. The main aim of this industry is to cure or reduce disease.
The biotech industry also produces medicine but these medicines are derived from living organisms and molecular biology. This industry is mainly focused on medicine but is also used in agriculture. On the medical side, biotech is mainly focused on using living cells to research and produce medicinal products. Rigorous research is conducted to identify genes in disease and potential drugs are tested to see if the drug works against that disease. In agricultural biotechnology, organisms are modified, crops and animals are genetically improved and microorganisms are engineered for specific agricultural uses.
The medical technology industry focuses on developing, manufacturing, and distributing devices, equipment, machines, diagnostic testing kits, and health information systems. This industry provides physicians and healthcare providers with the latest tools to safely treat patients and ultimately save more lives. Thanks to the technologies we have today, medical technology has provided patients with longer and healthier lives. Now, healthcare providers can detect and stop diseases early on and provide more effective treatments.
The insurance industry provides risk management in the form of insurance contracts. The insurer guarantees payments for an unknown future event. The person that wants protection against future uncertainties has to pay a sum of money to the insurer. Health insurance companies are one of the most subscribed types of insurance. In most cases, health insurance covers medical, surgical, medical, and sometimes dental fees for the insured.
The healthcare facilities industry focuses on providing proper locations to practice and perform healthcare-related work as well as sourcing medical practitioners. Examples of locations are doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals, and care units. Hospitals are equipped with medical, diagnostic, and treatment equipment and services. Residential care personnel, nurses, or supervisors are provided for care units. This industry must comply with strict legal standards and have licenses issued by regulatory agencies to ensure a safe and proper infrastructure for practicing medicine.
Implementation of Cloud Computing in the Healthcare Industry
Cloud Computing In Pharmaceutical and Biotech
With the promise of saving cost, connectivity, and scalability with cloud computing, many small biotech and pharmaceutical companies adopt some form of cloud technology. Even major biotech and pharmaceutical companies also use cloud computing. Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson used Amazon Web Services and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.
Not only is the cloud relatively low cost, but BioTeam co-founder also shared how a traditional 100 CPU-hour problem can be solved using Elastic Compute Cloud in just one hour for $40.
Additionally, cloud service providers also provide cloud-based drug discovery software platforms which increase collaboration. These secure cloud spaces provide a virtual world that enables researchers from around the globe to participate in research projects.
As more people use and share data in the cloud, there is an abundance of data stored in cloud databases that can be distributed to researchers in remote areas to assist in making new medical discoveries.
Below are some case studies of cloud computing implemented in pharmaceutical and biotech companies:
- Doctors at California Pacific Medical Center could find hard-to-find kidneys using a cloud-based software program.
- Oracle released cloud-based applications that ease small pharmaceutical companies to search for qualified subjects for clinical trials.
- Google provides small companies to integrate their drug discovery technologies with Google’s Compute Engine. This in turn allows small companies to collaborate easily with larger pharma and biotech companies.
- Small pharma and biotech companies do not have enough budget to build their own large IT infrastructure. so that SaaS services can save them time and money.
Cloud Computing In Medical Machines And Devices
The medical machines and devices sector is rather slow in adopting cloud services into their industry. However, due to the increasing interest of other healthcare sectors, the medical machines sector is also following the trend. Now, medical devices can wirelessly connect to the cloud for data collection, storage, computation, and distribution. Wearable technology can now upload health indicators to the cloud for physicians to keep track of the wearer’s health condition.
Medtronic, a medical device company, used the IBM cloud service for its health application which provides real-time insight into diabetic patients’ glucose levels. These insights allow Medtronic to inform patients about their current health status and give suitable medical advice.
Medtech and cloud computing leaders shared success stories of cloud used in medical devices.
- Dr. David Rhew who is a Microsoft global chief medical officer shared about a boot for diabetics called Sensoria that can track pressure and movement. These movement data are transferred to the cloud and advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence are applied to predict pressure ulcers.
- Roshy Frances, GE Healthcare’s chief technology officer deployed solutions on the cloud to allow clinical care teams to virtually diagnose a patient and collaborate remotely. GE Healthcare is also deploying solutions that allow complex procedures to be monitored and guided by professionals remotely using cloud technology.
Cloud Computing In Insurance Management
With the rise of data-driven businesses and early-stage startups, more regulatory mandates that require heavy analytics pose new challenges insurers face. Hence, insurance companies must enhance their business by improving their business processes which require complex applications, building more data warehouses, and new business solutions. These changes require a huge amount of computing power. Cloud computing is a means that insurers can use to their benefit and transform their business with less strain.
A benefit of cloud computing for the insurance industry is cost reduction. Cloud service providers have multiple cloud services that use a pay-per-use model. This means insurance companies do not have to spend any money on upfront expenditures for services. With the cloud, insurance companies can use collaborative applications and email services that facilitate faster customer service. A satisfied customer is a customer insurance companies can retain.
Since the cloud holds large volumes of data, sophisticated business analytics can be performed and many insights can be deduced and used by the insurance company to improve its business performance.
Business analytics helps insurance companies with marketing, claims, underwriting, risk management, and more. Insurers can get a better insight into fraud cases, financial performance and compliance, understanding of customer needs, and more. Insurers can easily access analytics services on the cloud to obtain and make intelligent business decisions.
Cloud Computing In Optimizing Healthcare Facilities
Thanks to the cloud, healthcare facility services are more optimized than before. Doctors and medical practitioners can obtain information on patients’ health remotely, perform sophisticated data analytics to predict the onset of health deterioration, keep track of medical machines’ status to ensure optimal operation, and much more. Listed below are a few examples of applications of cloud computing that optimize healthcare facilities:
Cloud technology allows the delivery of care services online by connecting doctors to patients or doctors to other doctors. Medical staff can provide information or advice on medical cases using telemedicine applications. Today, telemedicine apps allow real-time data transfer from any location. So, medical personnel can interact and give medical advice to patients from anywhere in the world which saves cost, saves the medic’s time, and gives more time for them to focus on more serious medical issues.
Healthcare Information Systems
This system collects, stores, and shares patients’ data online which can be used to predict health deterioration and keep track of all patients’ health. It can also be a hospital’s management system that accepts and answers patient queries, optimize billing and finance, manage human resources, and more.
Clinical Decision Support System
This system’s general task is to enhance medical decision-making backed up with clinical knowledge, patient information, and other health information. Below is a list of functions of the clinical decision support system:
- Patient safety: target patient safety by reducing medication prescription errors, dosing errors, drug-event monitoring, drug allergy detection, and incomplete ordering.
- Clinical management: studies have shown this system increased adherence to clinical guidelines. This system can standardize orders for a specific case, alert specific protocol for each patient, send reminders for testing, ensure preventative care, alert clinicians to contact patients that missed their medical appointment, identify patients eligible for research, and more.
- Saving cost: this system can reduce the cost of health systems through timely clinical interventions, decrease patient length-of-stay, suggest cheaper medication alternatives and reduce duplicated tests.
Improvements in Healthcare with the Implementation of Cloud Computing
Reduced IT cost within each sector
- Based on a survey, 88% of healthcare organizations that adopt cloud computing into their business model were able to reduce IT costs by 20% annually.
- From the Thomson Reuters report, the US healthcare sector wastes $600 to $850 billion yearly due to administrative inefficiencies and wasted treatments which can be solved by big data analytics through the cloud.
- The healthcare industry produces and uses extremely large amounts of data. These data require physical IT infrastructures that are very expensive to build. With the cloud, healthcare organizations need to only pay for the cloud services they need to use without spending money on building massive IT infrastructures because infrastructures are handled by the cloud providers themselves.
Increased Connectivity and Collaboration
- Medical professionals can now communicate more seamlessly with patients to provide top-quality and real-time professional advice.
- Health test results can be uploaded, tracked, and updated online so patients and health organizations can monitor their health status together.
- Specialists from different companies, departments, and sectors can access shared cloud storage at any time and anywhere more seamlessly. This improves communication between professionals and reduces miscommunication and misinterpretations.
- Research collaboration is now unrestricted to a physical location. Researchers and professionals can now collaborate online which will rapidly increase research and innovation as more time and energy is being saved. With the extra time and energy, researchers can put more focus on making new medical discoveries faster than ever before.
On-Demand and Continuous Health Monitoring
- Thanks to cloud computing, there are many options for telehealth applications people can use to obtain on-demand medical advice from real doctors. One popular telemedicine application is Doctor on Demand. Another great application is MyChart which allows patients to access online appointment scheduling, keep health records, pay health bills, and patient-doctor communication.
- Wearable devices such as smartwatches can now connect to the cloud and continuously monitor the wearer’s health. A sudden change in health indicators detected by wearable devices can alert family, friends, and medical professionals through the cloud. Additionally, the patient can obtain timely and professional medical advice to mitigate the symptoms.
HIPAA-Compliant Cloud Computing Services
HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. It is “a federal law that protects sensitive and private patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge”. Since the cloud is famously used for storing data, it is important for us to know that our private information is safely stored in the cloud.
Basically, HIPAA aims to protect the confidentiality and integrity of protected health information. The cloud user must ensure that the cloud service provider signs a business associate agreement to establish a legally-binding relationship between the HIPAA-covered user and the cloud business associate. This is to ensure full protection of protected health information.
Five HIPAA-Compliant Cloud Computing Storage
Listed below are five HIPAA-compliant cloud storage providers. These cloud storage providers are chosen by industries because they sign the business associate agreement (BAA) and adhere to its privacy rules.
Google Cloud Drive
In 2013, Google began signing BAAs that cover Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Vault. Google Cloud was built with the guidance of a security engineering team of more than 700 people. Google also takes the initiative to undergo third-party audits regularly to ensure customers with external verification, reports, and certification. Some of the annual audit standards are ISO27017 Cloud Security and ISO27018 Cloud Privacy. https://cloud.google.com/security/compliance/hipaa
To support Microsoft’s customer’s compliance with HIPAA when using Microsoft products, Microsoft also enters and signs BAAs. Microsoft adheres to HIPAA’s Security Rule. Microsoft services and products that are covered under BAA also undergo audits by independent auditors for the ISO/IEC 270001 and HITRUST CSF certification. Moreover, Microsoft cloud services are also covered by FedRAMP assessments.
Amazon AWS promises covered entities and businesses to use the secure AWS environment as it is HIPAA compliant. AWS provides a reliable, inexpensive, and scalable computing platform consistent with HIPAA. Amazon AWS outwardly confirms that they present customers with a standard BAA for signature.
Since 2012, the Box platform and its products have been compliant with HIPAA, HITECH, and HIPAA Omnibus rules. Like other HIPAA-compliant cloud services, Box also signs BAAs with all users that want to store PHI in the cloud. Box has also been audited by a third party which states that it has methods to meet HIPAA requirements. The several policies to ensure HIPAA compliance is data encryption, restricted physical access to production servers, strict logical system access controls, training employees on security policies highly restricted employee access to customer data files, and more.
This service is popular for its award-winning cloud platform. the y help organizations to meet cybersecurity, HIPAA-compliant hosting, and cloud storage needs. In their own words, “HIPAA Compliant Hosting by Atlantic.Net™ is SOC 2 and SOC 3 certified, HIPAA and HITECH audited and designed to secure and protect critical health data, electronically protected health information (ePHI), and records. We are audited by qualified, independent third-party auditing firms to demonstrate our leading security and compliance services.”
Healthcare Industry Case Studies from Major Cloud Computing Companies
Emory University researchers were able to predict sepsis using clinical data, machine learning, and Google Cloud infrastructure. Approximately 750,000 Americans are affected by sepsis each year. It is one of the most dangerous and expensive diseases in the US.
Dr. Shamim Nemati and Dr. Ashish Sharma from Emory University School of Medicine took the initiative to overcome the challenge of reliably and quickly diagnosing sepsis. They used anonymized e-health records of 30,000 patients from Emory’s intensive care unit to create an artificially intelligent engine that analyzes 65 relevant variables. With historical data, the engine can now predict the onset of sepsis. In real-time, the engine continuously monitors the patient’s data every five minutes and provides a score in real-time that predicts the likelihood of sepsis.
The team was able to achieve 85% accuracy in predicting seizures four to six hours before they occur. Being able to predict when a health issue will occur provides medical professionals to plan an intervention and avoid the worst-case scenario from happening and ultimately save more lives.
Dr. Sharma designed the engine on Google Cloud resulting in data input processing, predictive analytics, and seamless output all in real-time. They also built a Fast Healthcare Interoperable Resource database on Google Cloud to ensure that the engine is scalable and interoperable across different institutions.
Regeneron, a global biotech and pharmaceutical company, uses Amazon’s cloud service known as Amazon Web Services (AWS), to improve drug discovery through the integration of genomic insights using the cloud. Jeffrey Reid, CDO of Regeneron Genetics Center, said that they would not be able to perform large-scale genomic analysis without the scalability of AWS cloud infrastructure.
Regeneron built comprehensive datasets on a global level to analyze millions of genomes at a time. Analyzing large volumes of genome data allows researchers “to discover and uncover connections between diseases and specific genetic variations that would not be obvious in a small population”.
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud is a web service that provides secure and resizable compute capacity in the cloud. Regeneron used this web service to accelerate exome sequencing and process genetic samples. The resulting petabyte of genomic data is stored securely using Amazon Simple Storage Service which saved Regeneron 90 percent cost savings compared to on-premises servers.
For research collaboration with many different academic and pharmaceutical industry groups, the Regeneron Genetics Center made data available for other researchers for analysis. Amazon Simple Storage Service was used to securely store data and for other researchers to securely access data. Amazon Elastic File System was used to manage data files without the individual having to provision or manage storage.
With AWS, Regeneron was able to accelerate new genomic discoveries at a speed never seen before. They were able to work across multiple institutions and locations thanks to the cloud. AWS provided Regeneron with a secure data platform to generate and share data with collaborators across the world, apply large-scale data analytics, and then share the results.
eClinicalWorks is a company that provides electronic medical records, practice management, and personal health record software and services to healthcare providers in the United States.
Specialists, urgent care facilities, and hospitals subscribe to eClinicalWorks services to use its comprehensive tools for managing electronic health and medical records. However, sustaining large volumes of data and its exponential business growth requires an appropriate capacity to manage data and network traffic.
Traditionally, eClinicalWorks need to buy more servers, hardware, and data storage as more customers join their business which drives up cost and takes up a lot of time. Due to the disadvantages of traditional means, the company opted for a HIPAA-compliant cloud solution, Microsoft Azure.
Now, the company works closely with Azure’s development team to migrate massive amounts of eClinicalWorks-hosted data to the cloud. eClinicalWorks uses more than,2,200 Azure virtual machines and primarily depends on compute and memory optimization running their Java applications and SQL Server databases.
Azure virtual machines provided the company with on-demand scalability, flexibility, speed, performance enhancement, and overall high-quality service to their customers without data leakage and interruptions.
For security purposes, eClinicalWorks uses Microsoft Defender for Cloud provides security recommendations and deploys policies to be compliant with regulatory requirements.
There are many more fascinating and inspiring success stories that highlight the importance of cloud computing and how it helps businesses improve their services. If you are interested to read more of these success stories, you can visit the links below for the three cloud services mentioned here.
Current Cloud Computing Challenges for Use in Healthcare Industry
Many people can access or manage data stored in the cloud, raising the concern of access control. The ease of data transmission between organizations requires customers to be more vigilant in understanding the heightened risks of data breaches. Security Challenges in Healthcare Cloud Computing: A Systematic Review. doi:10.5539/gjhs.v9n3p157
Another data security threat associated with the cloud is ransomware attacks. According to the 2019 Verizon Data Breach Investigational Report, 70% of malware attacks were due to ransomware. Small hospitals and healthcare centers are mostly targeted for ransomware attacks because they have lower budgets and resources for data security and hence, are an easier target. To mitigate this issue, organizations must perform regular data backups and store these backups offline or on a separate network for future data recovery in the event of another ransomware attack.
A data breach is another type of data security failure. A data breach is when confidential, sensitive, and protected information is exposed without the authorization of the system’s owner. Some sensitive data in the healthcare industry include name, age, address, contact number, and personal health information. According to an IBM security report, in 2019, the cost of a data breach in the health industry was $11 million. To reduce data breaches, service providers should provide advanced and sophisticated encryption to make the protected data unreadable to attackers.
Data lock-in is challenge cloud users have experienced before in 2012. Cloud lock-in is when customers depend on a single cloud storage solution because transitioning data to another vendor platform is difficult and costly. For example, AWS lock-in customers by charging transfer fees to move data out of AWS’s cloud. In 2012, when google decided to discontinue Google Health, users were given a year to download all their health data. This makes it difficult for customers to migrate from one provider to another since the process is not seamless.
Some cloud users might need to frequently download back large amounts of data from the cloud when changing providers. If there is a networking bandwidth limit, users might run into a data transfer bottleneck.
Using cloud computing brings new legal issues such as data jurisdiction and privacy issues. In the cloud, different jurisdictions might have different laws regarding data security, privacy, usage, and intellectual property. Without the user’s acknowledgment, the provider may move the user’s information from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Other legal issues related to the use of the cloud include liability for copyright infringement, data breaches, security violations, HIPAA violations, data loss, hacking, and more that can lead to litigation and regulatory action.
More and more healthcare organizations are adopting the cloud for storing, managing, distributing, and sharing data. Cloud provides healthcare organizations with saved costs, data sharing flexibility, scalability, wider research opportunities and collaboration, remote and continuous health monitoring, and better customer services.
Although there are concerns mainly about data security, cloud service providers are constantly improving the security aspect by implementing tighter security protocols and complying with security laws and regulations to ensure better data protection. Overall, the beneficial impact of cloud computing in the healthcare industry can be seen through many success stories and we can anticipate more discoveries in healthcare that will improve our living conditions.
If you think we have missed any area/aspect of healthcare in its article, please add them below in the comments for the benefit of other readers.
Hope you enjoyed this article.