How does the cloud work? Understanding cloud computing in healthcare

Understanding cloud computing in healthcare

The terms “cloud” and “cloud computing” have been gaining a lot of traction in recent years, but there’s still confusion and misunderstanding surrounding these concepts. What is cloud computing in the simplest terms, and why does it matter in healthcare?

What is the cloud?

In the very simplest terms, the cloud refers to information that exists on the internet (as opposed to being hosted locally on your computer or device).

The cloud relies on internet servers, software, and databases to store and transmit information. The cloud is useful in a variety of industries, healthcare being foremost among them. Since speed, reliability, and security are of the utmost importance in healthcare, the industry is increasingly shifting toward the cloud.

Is there a difference between “the cloud” and “cloud computing”?

While “the cloud” refers to the system of servers on the internet that host information, cloud computing refers to the on-demand delivery of that information via the internet. For example: If you store secure patient data in the cloud with a cloud storage provider, and then you access that data via a secure internet connection, you’re using cloud computing.

Why would I use the cloud instead of my own device or servers?

There are lots of reasons to use cloud services, but three of the main reasons include:

1. Storage. The cloud has theoretically limitless storage capability that can expand instantly to meet your growing needs. Plus, it’s expensive to purchase and own physical data centers and servers. In most cases, cloud computing permits pay-as-you-go pricing so you can use as much or as little storage and transmission as you need. Typically, all you need to access cloud storage is internet access and a contract with a cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services.

2. Security. If you store everything on your device and it’s stolen, your information is gone. Likewise, if you have on-premise servers that fail, your data is inaccessible. That is particularly risky in an industry like healthcare where HIPAA and other regulations control the storage and transmission of data. In the cloud, the information exists independently from devices and can not only be stored but also backed up and recovered. Most cloud computing services also have stringent security protocols to ensure that your information is safe – particularly those designed with healthcare in mind. It’s important when evaluating a cloud services provider, to ensure they have effective safeguards in place, from software development lifecycle, to internal controls, to operational controls.

3. Business continuity. Leading cloud service providers have services distributed across geographic locations to protect from loss of connectivity, power, and service-specific failures. This “self-healing” architecture allows for business continuity when location-specific failures occur.

I’ve heard about cloud-native applications. What does that mean?

The cloud is built for extreme agility and versatility, and it’s constantly evolving. One of the things the cloud is increasingly relied upon for is cloud-native applications. This refers to tools or programs that were built specifically within and for the cloud.

Cloud-native applications offer a number of significant potential benefits, including:

  • Easy collaboration and communication
  • High availability
  • Lower data storage costs
  • Significantly improved efficiency

What else can the cloud do for me?

Cloud computing can serve a variety of functions within a hospital setting. Beyond storing and transmitting data, the cloud can also permit data analytics, embedded intelligence, and machine learning. Translation: The cloud can make your job easier by eliminating monotonous, redundant tasks.

Chances are excellent that you’re already using the cloud for Software as a Service (SaaS) applications. SaaS applications started becoming commonplace a decade ago and have experienced widespread adoption (think: Dropbox, Office365).

The cloud can also offer Platform as a Service (PaaS),  which removes the need for an IT or development team to maintain the underlying infrastructure (like keeping hardware and operating systems up to date). At Spok, we chose to build Spok Go® on a cloud platform so that our development team can move quickly to add new features.

Finally, the cloud can offer Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) which essentially places your IT department in the cloud. That doesn’t mean your IT team members aren’t needed anymore; it just gives them cloud-based super powers via flexible control over all IT resources.

Why the cloud matters in healthcare

The cloud can make your IT team more efficient, so instead of updating security patches, they can help improve efficiencies and support clinicians in doing what they do best: caring for patients.

In a hospital, clinic or other healthcare setting, high-quality cloud platforms and cloud-native applications can facilitate:

  • Secure messaging
  • Encrypted paging
  • Directories
  • On-call scheduling
  • Patient records
  • Diagnostics, with machine learning-enabled predictions

If you’re interested in learning more about how the cloud can support your health system’s objectives, reach out today.