AlexOakenman - Fotolia

Healthcare cloud helps patients, research -- but has IT risks

Healthcare cloud services hold much promise -- genomic research being a good example -- but the industry also worries about the related potential threats.

Several years back, I cut my arm on a neighbor's old chain link fence. I ignored how nasty the gash was, the wound got infected, and I eventually ended up in the ER of a local hospital on a Saturday afternoon.

Sure enough, a nurse asked me if had received a tetanus shot in the last five years. I had no idea, and unfortunately at the time, none of my healthcare records were available for reference in the cloud.

Ouch. That needle hurt.

The shot stung me figuratively, too, as I pondered why I didn't have easier access to my medical records. Granted, there are EHRs not in the healthcare cloud even today, but in the big picture, we're all heading there whether we go willingly or kick and scream our way down the road.

It's not just electronic records, either. Many applications and services in healthcare have a place in the cloud, including:

  • Storage of protected health information
  • Software as a service
  • Platforms, such as with Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Digital imaging
  • Clinical research

New handbook opens up healthcare cloud

We explore how some of these issues affect the medical industry in our new handbook, Healthcare Cloud Is Rolling In, which you can download here.

In the handbook, news writer Kristen Lee offers what I think is a fascinating story about Nationwide Children's Hospital and a bioinformatics company, GenomeNext, LLC, working together to perform human genomic studies using AWS.

The core of the research resides in an algorithm developed by the hospital, which the development team eventually realized could scale up well in the cloud.

Having covered genomics in the life sciences world in a previous job, I know the amount of data that comes from mapping a human genome is staggering. What the cloud offers in the storage of terabytes of genomic information is also the cloud's potential drawback, as security continues to worry organizations that send their files into the Internet haze.

As part of the handbook, contributor Trevor Strome looks into the pros and cons of the healthcare cloud, including the problems that could endanger data. In the end, Strome concludes that "most of these security concerns also apply to a healthcare organization's self-hosted IT infrastructure." Put another way: The cloud may be no more risky than your own servers being hacked.

Areas to scrutinize with cloud efforts

Wrapping up the handbook is a list of factors healthcare IT executives should evaluate when making purchasing decisions for cloud services, as explained by contributor Reda Chouffani. He encourages leaders to consider which pieces of their technology infrastructure make sense in the healthcare cloud, rather than jumping full force in.

Whatever approach you choose, don't forget patients like me and others who could benefit from the freedom the cloud offers.

How far are you trekking into the healthcare cloud? Email Scott Wallask, news director for SearchHealthIT, or let him know on Twitter: @Scott_HighTech.

Next Steps

Healthcare investment in the cloud could be worth $12 billion by 2020

Providers recognize value of cloud backup services

Dig Deeper on Health care cloud applications and services