Commentary - Despite widespread adoption of cloud-based solutions by most industries, the healthcare industry has been slow to embrace cloud computing. While this slow adoption is partially due to concerns about safeguarding confidential patient information and compliance with key regulations such as HIPAA, many healthcare IT departments are simply burdened with outdated legacy systems and feel overwhelmed with the prospect of supporting yet another standard or protocol.
If these obstacles can be overcome, cloud computing solutions can bring tremendous benefits to healthcare organizations as well as help them improve patient care and reduce overall healthcare costs.
For instance, cloud computing can help healthcare organizations share information stored across disparate information systems in real- time and can free up IT staff to attend to more critical tasks in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
In my opinion however, the biggest benefit of embracing the cloud is the ability to take advantage of a new generation of innovative applications. The cloud levels the playing field for healthcare start-ups and entrepreneurs who previously could not enter the market due to high barriers to entry-primarily adhering to industry specific protocols.
Today, small teams of software developers have created entirely new industries and revolutionized the way we shop, share and interact with the outside world. One of the key forces behind these innovations has been the ability to exchange data seamlessly between disparate systems powering these applications. Interoperable standards like HTML, XML and JSON enable search engines to index virtually all the content on the Internet and display results in a fraction of a second. They enable websites to notify users when content changes and enable organizations to create add-on applications to existing social networking and communications platforms.
This ability to extend the functionality of existing data is what often leads to new innovation and optimizations; something healthcare IT is desperately in need of. As we know, unlike other data, healthcare data is strictly confidential and poses privacy and security concerns. As discussed earlier, these concerns have slowed the rate of cloud adoption in the healthcare industry but this should not deter organizations to abandon the cloud completely.
To embrace the cloud, organizations must integrate their existing legacy systems seamlessly and securely with modern web and cloud based services.
Those familiar with integration know that this is can be a Herculean task.
For example, something as innocuous as a phone number may be formatted in one system as 1234567890 whereas another system will need (123)456-7890, requiring software engineers to write custom code--costing time and money.
In addition, most integration engines and hardware installations across the industry are based on technology that’s more than a decade old. As a result, most IT directors are in no immediate rush to integrate with the cloud.
However, with a well-defined plan and the right tools, organizations can transition smoothly and prepare themselves to take advantage of the next generation of cost-cutting, life-saving innovations that are sure to come.
Below are some challenges healthcare organizations must keep in mind when integrating with cloud-based solutions:
1. Use Modern Tools – The easiest way to bridge the gap between existing integrations and the new cloud based interfaces is to use tools that are specifically designed to do just that. It might sound obvious, but many organizations attempt to reuse technology from the past – or build new tools from the ground up – rather than embracing technology that was built to integrate using both old and new protocols.
2. Maintain visibility into highly scalable data centers - Traditional healthcare applications need to be installed on individual servers within hospitals. Therefore, the amount of CPU, disk and resources for each application is huge and reduces the efficiency tremendously. On the other hand, a cloud data center is scalable and typically handles millions of transactions per day and has to stay up 24x7. Monitoring all those interfaces can be a difficult task. It is important to use tools that can help organizations scale efficiently and still provide visibility into the many feeds.
3. Be flexible - While the idea of everyone adhering to the same standard is a noble concept, in healthcare, it’s a long way off. In order to benefit from the numerous opportunities and applications available, organizations need to be flexible. That means being able to accept data ‘as-is’, handle any data format from HL7 to XML and map information on-the-fly. The more efficiently you can send and receive data – from SSL to HTTPS – the more likely you’ll be able to create a robust, secure method of exchanging, analyzing and presenting data.
Cloud computing can play a critical role in containing healthcare integration costs, optimizing resources and ushering in a new era of innovations. Despite the security and privacy risks, healthcare organizations can certainly take advantage of cloud computing solutions today as long as they enforce best practices.
Eliot Muir is CEO of iNTERFACEWARE, a software company that recently unveiled the latest version of Iguana, a modern integration engine that addresses healthcare integration woes.