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Hear how cloud computing can benefit health-care services. (Note: This video does not address the challenges of storing health-care data in the cloud.)


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Is cloud computing the future of health care? Do you think the benefits of cloud computing outweighs the risks? #DoNowUCloud


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Learn More about the Opportunities and Challenges of Cloud Computing in Health Care

1000px-Cloud_computing_icon.svgΠrate/Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that 90 percent of data today was produced in just two years? Almost every day, approximately two quintillion bytes of data are generated. And the amount of data being produced is growing exponentially. Because of this, more and more companies — including those in the field of health care — are in need of servers. Instead of every company owning and maintaining physical servers, cloud computing has become a popular alternative. Cloud computing refers to an on-demand, self-service Internet infrastructure that enables users to access computing resources anytime from anywhere. So instead of buying servers to store data, online servers are rented from various providers.

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Health care, as with any other service operation, requires continuous and systematic innovation in order to remain cost effective, efficient and timely, and to provide high-quality services. Many managers and experts believe that cloud computing can improve health care by reducing electronic health record startup expenses, such as hardware, software, networking, personnel, and licensing fees, and therefore will encourage its adoption. One example of a cloud-based healthcare service is a proposed system that automates the process of collecting patients’ vital data via a network of sensors connected to legacy medical devices, and to deliver the data to a medical center’s “cloud” for storage, processing and distribution. Another example is the Sphere of Care by Aossia Healthcare, which launched earlier this year. These cloud-based systems’ main benefits are that they provide users with real-time data collecting seven days per week, and reduce or eliminate manual collection work, which also eases the deployment process.

fingerprintbykst/Pixabay

However, there challenges facing health-care providers in moving all their data to the cloud. The biggest issues are those regarding security and privacy of information. For example, if medical data is stored on the cloud, then health-care services no longer have complete control over the security of their patients’ information. There is some risk of the data possibly being exposed or lost. Additionally, there are different regulations that can vary from region to region regarding patient information, making compliance with these various regulations potentially complicated. And, if there are online server outages, availability to the data is severed during that time.

What do you think? Is cloud computing the future of health care? Do you think the benefits of cloud computing outweighs the risks?

network-782707_640jeferrb/Pixabay

More Resources

ARTICLE: KQED
Critical Condition: How a Broken Medical Records System is Endangering America’s Health

Digital medical records are scattered across dozens of systems that don’t talk with each other, putting patients’ lives in danger. Learn about the issue and view an interactive timeline about the quest for electronic medical records.

AUDIO: NPR
Sharing Patient Records Is Still A Digital Dilemma For Doctors

In an time when most industries cam easily share large digital files, the health-care industry still relies on paper. Since 2009, $30 billion from taxes has gone to install electronic records systems in hospitals and doctors’ offices, though most of them can’t talk communicate with each other.

ARTICLE: KQED
Startups, Entrepreneurs Try to Solve Medical Records Debacle

Electronic health records have a long road ahead before medical information can be reliably and securely delivered between hospitals and other care providers. While the government works to solve these problems, some entrepreneurs are hard at work trying to find solutions.

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This post was written by Idris Hanafi, a student at Southern Connecticut State University.

KQED Do Now U is a bi-weekly activity in collaboration with SENCER. SENCER is a community of transformation that consists of educators and administrators in the higher and informal education sectors. SENCER aims to create an intelligent, educated, and empowered citizenry through advancing knowledge in the STEM fields and beyond. SENCER courses show students the direct connections between subject content and the real world issues they care about, and invite students to use these connections to solve today’s most pressing problems.

  • Udeme Usen

    Using cloud computing in health care is interesting. It reduces the cost necessary to maintain data infrastructure or effort required to make the data available and would overall reduce the cost of Health care. However, the most pressing issue in my opinion is availability of the data after it is uploaded to the cloud. Using big data would require good internet services and a good connection between the service that houses the data and the entity that requires the data.

    If the hospital requires this information and the service is not available, this could cause issues especially when that data is required immediately. Backup methods can be in place the stores data locally at the site and still uploading the data to the cloud. The data infrastructure at the site does not need to be robust, it could just house frequent or important data.

  • Omar Abid

    I believe that cloud computing is not only the future of health care but the future of storing all information pertinent to ones life, e.g. dmv records, credit transitions, bill payments, location tracking.

    Imagine a world where if you did not know that you were allergic to peanuts and you mistakenly eat a dish that contains peanuts, while you are going into anaphylactic shock an EMT could request data from your credit transactions and verify that you are in fact in need of epinephrine and not seizing due to some other unknown factor because you recently purchased a dish that may contain peanuts from a local restaurant.

    While this does mean that we have to give up certain aspects of our privacy, our privacy is going to be breached regardless of whether or not we would like it to be, http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/ is a good example of just that.

    Another example would be if you are pulled over for speeding while on vacation in another state, as the current intra-state system for police officers exists the officer in the other state only knows if your license is valid or not and if you have any warrants out in your name, it does not tell them that in 10 years of driving you have only been pulled over twice and both times you were not issued a ticket. Had the officer been able to see this data and also check that you are fully up to date on your insurance (or even taxes), it would be much more likely that he would be willing to also let you off with a warning knowing that it could just be the excitement of the vacation that is causing this unusual behavior.

    Having a persons health care data stored in the cloud is not a question of if, more of a question of when. All data will be migrated to the cloud, possibly even advancing the information age to one in which the internet of things allows doctors to know when you are having a heart attack, alerting the police to the scene of an accident, or even allowing payments to be made via retinal scans.

    We will need to focus on security and the backbone of the infrastructure as Udeme noted, but with a large migration to the cloud these things will not happen out of a businesses best interest, but purely out of necessity.

  • Renuka Nagarajan

    Yes, I agree that it is inevitable that cloud is the future for healthcare data. For that, All the cloud computing business should provide high availability systems and highly secured systems. I believe, providing infrastructure of high availability systems for healthcare data may not be challenge for Cloud companies. When it is comes to security and privacy, that is where the challenges are. Because, think about financial data vs healthcare data. Stealing financial data has a finite lifespan and it becomes worthless the second the customer detects the fraud and cancels the card or account. But, think about if a hacker steals healthcare information, which has a much longer shelf life and is rich enough for identity theft. Social Security numbers can’t easily be cancelled, and medical and prescription records are permanent.

    I am not sure that all the cloud companies which can store healthcare information are HIPPA complaint. Some regulations and policies should be in place for these business. And also, in order to reduce potential risks and vulnerabilities, I believe all members who are related to healthcare must follow all policies and procedures all the time and be more aware of the systems. Final thoughts, cloud computing for healthcare is both Gift and Curse. 🙂

  • Thao Lysik

    If going back to the time
    where communication is still by mails, then internet comes that makes
    communication is easier, much faster. Your messages can be received instantly
    within second compared to days or months (if international). Technology is
    developed better and better overtime. Recently, Cloud computing has been
    developed to solve the big data problem. It also provides fast storage and fast
    access to data whenever you need and wherever you are. To healthcare aspect, it
    can deliver info instantly to Doctors, so they can see patient status and be
    able to make the right decision to treat patient, etc… Even though,
    security is a challenging concern in healthcare, but I think security concerns
    are presented in anyform, not only for cloud computing. Therefore, how to
    protect the personal info when using cloud computing is an important topic for
    researchers. But with the benefits that cloud computing provides, I think it
    will be the future of healthcare.

  • Jon_Water_house

    I think that the cloud is the way to go for medical records. The main reason why I think this is because healthcare data will always continue to expand. Even though it is a newer technology, I think it can be trusted with important data. The more I read about it, the more I find that it seems to be very secure. In order to keep up with the never ending evolution of technology, I think that we will soon find that it is necessary to move data to the cloud. There are people who are skeptical, but there are always skeptics when I comes to new things. I think this seems like a no brainier. It is less expensive, and faster. I hope that we move towards the cloud for everything.

  • Phil Barello

    Cloud computing clearly provides economic incentive to provide data confidentiality, integrity, and availability. As the expenses of cloud computing decrease, consumption will likely increase. Cloud computing enables healthcare organizations to store and process workloads using the resources of other organizations. The difficulty of managing increasing complexity requires healthcare organizations to increase efforts to secure data assets while ensuring their utility is optimized.

    The healthcare system is shifting to a preventive care model, in order to reduce expenses of providing treatment. The concept is that people who prevent illness require less frequent and less expensive treatment. Preventive care will demand less time and effort from healthcare providers.

    Another consideration at the intersection of cloud computing and healthcare is the impact of increasing automation and globalization on health. If cloud computing automation eliminates the jobs of many people, and those people are unable to acquire adequate sustainable income for sufficient periods of time, if ever again within their lifetimes, those people are likely to suffer the debilitating health effects of poverty, and will likely require additional healthcare service, which may ultimately cost more time and effort.

    Cloud computing should be engaged in a manner the sustainably balances the health impacts it delivers.

  • Matt B

    I think that cloud computing will the standard in the future, but I do believe that it has a ways to go before it is implemented globally, especially for health care data.

    Right now, I think privacy and security are the biggest concerns for most people in regard to cloud computing. A Google engineer pointed me towards this white paper (https://cloud.google.com/security/whitepaper?hl=en) which explains Google’s security precautions for just normal data that a user stores on Google Docs, Slides, etc. Personally, I think that security in the cloud is likely better than what most companies are using at their own data centers (or closets) because the top cloud computing companies attract some of the best security personnel in the industry to architect and engineer the infrastructure. Privacy is something else that I personally think is disproportionately considered a threat. I think the measures that cloud computing companies go to in order to protect privacy far exceeds the standards that a normal company goes to from what I have seen.

    The biggest challenges in my mind are going to be factors related to government approval, migrations, and being able to play well with multiple vendors’ products. All these companies will need to meet HIPAA requirements and become certified. If a company for any reason loses their certification, what does that mean for all the medical facilities that they’re storing data for? I also don’t know what type of systems healthcare facilities use, but I have to assume there are multiple options which means that all these cloud computing companies will need to be able to work with a large majority of them.

    I would trust my personal data to be stored in the cloud more-so than I would having it stored in a folder behind a desk or on some random clinic’s server that some underpaid systems admin had to set up in some ad hoc fashion. I don’t trust the security at smaller places at all so I think centralizing the data may come at a cost, but I think it will definitely help in the long run.

  • johnsonj104@southernct.edu

    I believe that the greatest concerns that individuals and organizations have with cloud computing is privacy and security. Data stored in the cloud is out of our control. Someone else has the responsibility of securing the data from theft, protecting the data from loss or corruption, and ensuring that the data is not used in unauthorized ways — which itself isn’t clearly defined. For example, Facebook sells information about click behavior of its users to third parties as a key source of its revenue, and even though this fact is stated in Facebook’s privacy disclosure document, the implications are probably lost on most of the user population. There’s a “creepiness factor” that we have to overcome while we’re weighing the benefits against the drawbacks.

    One of the theories I have about why there is resistance to trust cloud data repositories is that we assume that we know what it takes to keep our data safe, and that means keeping it under our own control. It doesn’t occur to us that data in a cloud provider with decades of security experience, unlimited failover and redundancy capability, and architectural expertise would do a better job at securing our data than we could.

    Aside from the security questions, putting healthcare data into the cloud makes the data accessible to all the healthcare providers for an individual. Non personally-identifiable statistics could be used by healthcare researchers to find patterns and correlations that might not be possible using traditional study practices. All in all, doesn’t it come down to saving lives? Saving lives is good. Following a practice that ends up in preventable loss of life is not.

  • Kevin

    I think the privacy implications may outweigh the utility of such an approach. Collecting data in large centralized places provides more bang for your buck if you are a hacker looking to gain access to private information. I personally would only support this if such a scheme existed where my records were encrypted by a key that only I or the people I have designated to make decisions on my medical care are able to decrypt. I would however support a large centralized database of allergy information because the benefit would outweigh the risk as long as it was not required legally.

    The main problem facing healthcare is not the accurate and timely transmission of data or centralized records its overall cost. I have a hard time believing that implementing a huge system that would likely require doctors to pay software subscription fees would actually reduce cost. Also we create a huge barrier of entry for competitors through both regulation and the scope of the systems involved would be hard for a small business or a startup to break through.

    Rather than moving medical records to the cloud(ie large centralized managed server farms) a peer to peer approach with a robust encryption scheme and trust chain that includes only myself, my healthcare provider and persons legally able to make decisions on my behalf provides all the benefits with little of the risk of a centralized cloud approach.

  • Darren

    I was about to say something about the world being more and more reliant on cloud technology, and then I realized that Omar has pretty much said what I was going to say, and in far better words.

    Yes, it is true that storing information on cloud servers means that information is no longer completely under one’s control. Yes, it could potentially mean that sensitive information would be more vulnerable because they’re stored in offshore servers. But the way I see it, the world is gravitating towards cloud technology more and more. The problem then is not finding more room to store extra servers in facilities – the problem becomes finding a solution to secure information that is stored in the clouds.

    The benefits of storing healthcare data on a cloud far outweighs the possible vulnerabilities, in my book, and could potentially be life-saving for the many patients in time to come. Other users have already elaborated on the benefits, and I’d like to add my voice in agreement to that.

  • Soropogui, Nyankoi

    It is obvious that health care organization is one of the field where storing data in a safe and reliable environment is a major priority. Patient’s privacy and possible loss of data are real concerns. However, the exponential growth of data generated from such an organization, the need of accessing these data anywhere at any time in a timely manner are serious issues that I think cloud storage is addressing.

    Although challenges are noticed, many health care organizations are efficiently using the cloud storage to manage their data. One of the reason is that the storage of health care data in cloud, where it can be accessible anywhere at any time is an amazing opportunity for both the health care provider and patients. Also, cloud storage increases efficiency and scalability of heath care system, increase flexibility of data sharing, and more importantly reduces the overall cost of health care. These, surely, improve healthcare services as medical professionals can analyze and make informed decisions timely, and provide an improved and accurate treatment to patients.

    So, when looking closely to the immensity of opportunities of cloud computing in storing health care data, one can affirm that with a proper management of data and the storage infrastructure, cloud storage is likely to be the future of health care information management. As research strategies and implementation of secure storage are improving, the advantages of storing health care data in cloud are largely outweighing challenges. Therefore, it should be implemented with just proper monitoring.

  • Surayya Umar

    Yes I agree that storing healthcare data in the cloud is a good idea. For large hospital groups, keeping patient records in different files can be extremely challenging without sophisticated technology. It can be incredibly burdensome to take physical files from one facility to another, wasting time and costing healthcare providers a significant amount of money in transportation and employee expenses, with cloud computing storage systems, it becomes easier. But with so many data being stored in the cloud, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact points where data is lost or exposed to malicious users. The goal is to provide the best treatment to patients in time and to keep their personal data safe. As long as the healthcare providers achieve this goal I believe the cloud computing trend will go higher but I just thinks it’s needs more time maybe in the near future.

  • Algol60

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NHS_Connecting_for_Health is just one article of many describing the British Government’s failure to achieve a national system for the National Health Service (NHS). Establishing a nationwide system at a national level for any purpose would seem not be easily achieved. The idea of a huge server-farm holding everyone’s important data, such as the allergies that Omar mentions, seems to be a two-edged sword: ease of access on the one hand, vulnerability to intrusion or breakdown on the other.

    If health data are to be recorded in the cloud and relied upon, there must be Plans B at the ready, perhaps periodic downloads to servers in regional health-centres and simple, easily understood arrangements for non-electronic work-arounds, such as using paper notes, that can be practised periodically as are fire-drills. The cloud is wonderful as a central resource, but the more it is relied upon the better target it becomes for the bad guys — and there seem to be many bad guys.

  • teabag2

    (Carl Haberfeld)
    My first comment is I thought this blog contained a number of very informative links. The big data facts site had some old data however: it said AWS revenue was $131M when according to Wikipedia it is $5.7B. All links were well chosen. Regarding cloud storage, I am a bit confused over whether a hospital offering central access to data records (as Yale New Haven does) is considered a cloud or non-cloud model. Seems like it would be called a private-cloud according to one of the links I reviewed. On the big question of electronic record storage for the medical industry along with public access, there is no question that this is a desirable goal, in spite of issues of security and privacy. I can imagine that
    there is resistance on the part of some doctors to lose total control of their patients data, on account of the freedom it gives patients to move around, but they should have a right to shop doctors. Other benefits I can think of might be improved data access for medical research, of course only after personal identification is made impossible. Cost reduction for the health care industry is a given, as manual record management employs many (more victims to automation!). Regarding privacy, whoever administers HIPAA should be responsible for setting and enforcing guidelines on electronic storage. In conclusion, issues of privacy and security must not derail efforts to reap all the benefits to be had from full electronic medical record access; we must be brave and clever in confronting our future

  • Lyra

    When I looked at this article, I questioned it. However, I didn’t question it in a bad way, yet in a good way. I wanna learn more about what normal every day people and scientists think about the cloud. In my perspective, over first look of this article, I thought that it would be amazing to keep all of your health data in the cloud. On the other hand, as I went through this article, I started wondering about privacy. Now, almost everything would be private, yet there could still be a chance of something going wrong. Privacy is a big issue for many people, so that is why I still question this topic. However, if there is a way that everything will stay and be kept private, I might just change my mind.

  • Matt

    I don’t think cloud computing is the right answer to healthcare improvements or keeping things up to speed, especially when services will be rented out to and handled by third party server/cloud hosts. If individuals choose to store their sensitive information to the cloud, then that is the choice they make. However, the right to have an option whether you want sensitive information being hurdled around or not is the most important. If I want to do my medical records old-school so that the doctor’s office can have a copy, and I can as well, then everything is fine and dandy. Having such sensitive information floating around is something that those concerned about privacy should be speaking out against more. Companies are always selling information collected, and this is nothing new or is a conspiracy. The most prime example I can think of would be the case about HeLa cells and the patient’s cells being used for capital gain. The individual rights were disregarded for the sake of everyone else. To protect others’ rights is also protecting your own rights. Third parties may not have to or choose not to live up to a code of ethics when it comes to handling sensitive data such as medical information, and it may be in the fine print that you sign away your right to privacy on accident.

  • Sami Ahmed

    I think it is beneficial to store health-care data in the cloud because it makes it easier for doctors to consult result with specialist and keep better track a patient’s recovery and it also can not be lost even if the servers break down. But there is also bad side of storing data on the cloud because just like iPhone cloud, health-care data cloud can also be hacked and the patients information can be leaked. Just like everything has pros and cons to it, storing health-care data also comes with advantages and disadvantages.

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