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Health data in the cloud

An overview of healthcare data repositories (EHR and EMR) and how research facilities are leveraging these stores for improved analytics.

Health data in the cloud

When it comes to taking advantage of technology, some sectors are more advanced than others. The healthcare industry has traditionally had a patchy relationship with IT. Despite being reliant on information, professionals within the sector have sometimes struggled to make the most of high-tech systems and services.

However, a relational step-change has accompanied the emergence of the cloud. End user advocate the Cloud Standards Customer Council stated back in 2012 that healthcare needed to shift towards an information-centric care delivery model, and it expected the cloud to be at the centre of this transformation.

Progress towards this goal has been swift. Consultant Accenturereferred to a surge in interest in the cloud during 2013, suggesting the healthcare sector was learning from other industries, such as financial services, how to harness cost and agility benefits without compromising data security. By 2014, HIMSS Analytics reported that as many as 83 per cent of healthcare IT executives were using cloud services.

Today, the cloud is providing a competitive advantage for healthcare organisations. Crucial to these advances are healthcare data repositories known as electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR), which are digitals version of traditional, paper-based patient records.

EMR and EHR provide a cloud-based platform upon which IT professionals can really start innovating. By allying these developments to advanced analytics, healthcare organisations can use business intelligence (BI) to help improve quality, efficiency, financial performance, and - most importantly - patient care.

Take the example of Dental Corporation, which is using cloud-based services across its 220 practices to manage information, develop smart services, and create patient-focused healthcare. Then look at Meriter Health Services, which has implemented BI to extend the capability of its EHR system, improving care and producing cost savings of more than $1m annually.

While such organisations provide a clear model of how to engage with on-demand IT, others remain reticent, in part due to worries about safeguarding sensitive data. The HIMSS Analytics research demonstrated security was the top concern for healthcare IT professionals last year, with almost two thirds (61 per cent) citing it as a major barrier to cloud adoption.

ZDNet and TechRepublic research suggests these concerns will remain for the near future, with security seen as a key cloud-computing trend through 2015. Potential cloud users fear vendors might inadvertently leak sensitive client information to the public, something that would be anathema for a governance-heavy healthcare organisation.

For healthcare executives eager to take advantage of the cloud, strategy and partnership remain they key watchwords. Relying on a trusted external relationship can allow healthcare organisations to create the kind of intelligence that could make a crucial difference to research and long-term care.