CLOUD TECHNOLOGY

Time for the Indian healthcare industry to embrace the cloud?

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The healthcare industry across the world is increasingly moving towards cloud technology to improve industry processes and offer better patient-care owing to the potential of the cloud technology. The Indian healthcare sector, which is traditionally slow to adopt technological advancements, too has finally climbed the cloud technology bandwagon. However, it is still far from utilising the real benefits the technology has to offer.

Benefits in healthcare

To fully harness the potential of cloud technology, we should first understand its benefits with regard to the healthcare industry. For starters, cloud can help in effectively connecting and synchronising the entire healthcare system from the hospitals to the dispensaries and medical consultants. It helps in bringing improvements in several process areas such as in-house communication, procurement, payroll management, disaster recovery and inventory management of drugs as well as essential supplies. This allows to collaborate and share the data such as the patient’s condition between medical professionals, which enables them to offer better care without delay.

A survey from Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Analytics and Level 3 shows that the utilisation of cloud technology for some of these back-end operations in the American healthcare sector has already gone up in the last couple of years.

Besides its application in hospital administration, cloud finds on-premise utilisation as well. Cloud technology helps in storing and retrieving massive volumes of data from remote locations in a quick, secure and cost-effective way. This enables physicians to share information with each other and gain quick insights that can help minimise error during treatment. Physicians with lesser experience can also get expert guidance through information transmission systems to deliver optimum care in case of emergencies.

A special case where big data and cloud comes in handy is during disasters where medical professionals need to get a clear picture of the resources or man-power required or know the status of the victims to provide the necessary aid.

Latest advancements

An ‘Internet Trends Report’ states that with digitisation of medical data, medical knowledge is doubling every 3.5 years. It also states that the increased access to medical data is leading to increased clinical trials and development of newer medicines. Similarly, physicians are targeting different types of cancer and advancing their studies on genomics. The data which enables these collaborative research and experiments are usually in tera and petabytes and can be supported only by cloud and big data technologies.

Newer big data tools have emerged in recent years that are enabling efficient computation of intensive data loads. Cloud platforms such as Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are designing services specifically for the healthcare system to enable medical research. These services are also enabling medical professionals to have the latest and most precise information at their fingertips so that they can diagnose the patient’s medical condition accurately.

Innovation in cloud computing and the rapid proliferation of mobile as well as wearable devices has significantly led to the development of mobile applications powered by cloud technology. These applications are helping doctors remotely monitor as well as stay up-to-date about the patient’s condition while allowing patients to transmit details of their condition over the cloud and obtain medical advice from doctors remotely. There are also several mobile applications available to the public that provide suggestions to a user on maintaining optimal health and fitness based on their data.

The HIMSS Analytics and Level 3 study shows that the cloud is coming up with several offerings including telemedicine, remote monitoring tools and mobile health applications. Various other studies too show that virtual care will become a commonplace by 2021 as more patients and physicians will rely on Internet of Things (IoT) and big data, both benefitting from cloud solutions. Industry professionals are increasingly expected to use cloud to provide patient empowerment tools such as electronic health records.

Way forward

The growing need for collaboration, flexibility and improved patient care coupled with the increased rate of adoption of cloud by the industry worldwide shows that cloud will eventually become a commonplace in the industry, which is backed by several studies. For example, studies show that advanced medical research is expected to drive the spending on cloud services to about $9.5 billion by the year 2020 compared to $3.73 billion in 2016.

As per Zinnov Management Consulting, the expenditure of the Indian healthcare sector is expected to reach approximately $164 billion by 2019-20 and the annual IT spending is expected to reach approximately $1.5 billion by 2020. Several IT companies such as Microsoft and mCURA are coming up with developmental programs and tying up with healthcare providers to offer them technical training and promote public awareness.

Having said this, there is still a huge scope for the medical sector to embrace cloud technology in India. The current medical infrastructure in India is inadequate to cater to over 1.3 billion population in the country and is in need of rapid modernisation if efficient medical care has to be delivered to the masses. With the cloud’s ability to eliminate sizeable chunks of installation and operating costs, and the aid it can provide in imparting better healthcare, the logical step for the industry is to move towards the cloud.

Ashu Kajekar is an internet visionary, founder and CEO of 7EDGE 

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the publication.)

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