How is cloud computing revolutionising healthcare?
Cloud computing has become the talk of the town, especially within the healthcare niche. The adoption of this state-of-the-art tech innovation has been escalating at a frenetic pace. One recent research study suggests that the global market for cloud technologies in healthcare is projected to reach $64.7 billion by 2025.
The reason behind its recent exponential growth is simple though. If healthcare businesses were simply service providers before, today they're true progressive institutions that depend on their IT infrastructure and departments to gain better clinical, administrative, and financial insights. This helps them make informed decisions.
And that's not all - as patient expectations change with each passing day, and new payment models get added to the equation, cloud technology has become vital to drive efficiency and improve patient care.
There are several things that have been made possible in healthcare due to the rapid adoption of cloud technology.
Reduced data storage costs
Most cloud platforms offer better infrastructure and services than individual on-premise storage systems set up by healthcare facilities.
Renting out rack space in a data centre would cost you only a fraction of what it would to set up and maintain an in-house system at such a scale. Additionally, there are substantial savings on technical upgrades, staff, and licenses.
On-premise data centres not only necessitate an investment in hardware early on, but they also come with ongoing costs of managing physical servers, spaces, and cooling solutions among other things.
“While EHRs have become mainstream in healthcare, storage of data on cloud servers is set to become the new normal,” explains Dr Vinati Kamani in one of her recent articles. “The use of cloud computing in healthcare saves up on the additional server costs, wherein you only pay for the computing capacity you use while ensuring the safety of sensitive PHI at the same time,” she continues.
Therefore, by carefully choosing a cloud hosting platform that will fit the needs of their particular practice, healthcare leaders can easily lower the costs associated with data storage and concentrate both their efforts as well as budget on making the patient experience seamless.
Robust security of sensitive patient information
Cyber attacks and thefts have been on the rise in the healthcare space of late. Now is the time that practices and hospitals alike need augmented security protocols that safeguard sensitive patient data.
Healthcare leaders are swiftly moving toward hybrid cloud environments — which offer the benefit of both private and public cloud — to achieve optimum compliance, security, flexibility and the ease to move applications between the two.
In a press release issued by Nutanix, the CIO of the Anne Arundel Medical Center, Dave Lehr said: “As a healthcare organisation, we’re responsible for managing critical clinical and IT applications such as EHR and PACS as well as making sure we have an infrastructure that is secure and scalable to support changing needs such as hybrid cloud-based disaster recovery."
“We knew that the right hyperconverged infrastructure would allow us to manage these workloads on a single, cost-effective solution,” Lehr continues.
A number of cloud vendors now also offer compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Opting for a compliant cloud service can further ensure that the sensitive patient data within your systems remains protected and adheres to HIPAA rules at all times. This can help you avoid any hefty penalties and keep your facility’s reputation from getting tarnished.
Greater collaboration between care teams
The rapid adoption of collaboration tools like video conferencing and enterprise messaging since the COVID-19 public health emergency hit us last year has presented immense potential towards positively influencing healthcare teams and leadership.
The cloud-based software behind these applications helps ameliorate the clinical workflow and enhances patient care, irrespective of the providers’ or patients’ physical locations.
Today, with the developments happening on the cloud technology front, the data collected from remote patient monitoring devices can also be uploaded to the healthcare facility’s dedicated cloud server or the user's private centralised cloud. The platform then keeps a record of all the monitored data which can be retrieved for analysis by the medical personnel during treatment.
An integrated and seamless approach to patient care
The utilisation of cloud storage for storing data from electronic health record systems (EHRs) has helped revolutionise collective patient care, making it less complicated for care providers and their staff to retrieve patient details at any given point in time, even from a remote location.
The majority of cloud platforms also employ essential security features such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) and access controls, that can provide patients with a greater sense of security when it comes to sharing credit card details or social security numbers.
Web-based software also makes it easier for physicians, staff members and patients to access patient portals and employ mobile health applications to receive important health information, such as lab test results, medication reminders and activity trackers.
All in all, cloud computing has presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to make value-based, patient-centric healthcare a reality.
The advantages mentioned above only scratch the surface of cloud technology’s true potential. Only those forward looking healthcare leaders that are ready to embrace this technology will know how much more it has in store for healthcare.
The next generation of wearable technology
Wearable technology for healthcare has evolved significantly since Fitbits started becoming household items. The combined possibilities of tracking data, constantly advancing technology , and a pandemic that forced most of the world to receive healthcare at home for more than a year, has led to huge innovations in wearable devices that do everything from reduce hospital stays to monitor the menstrual cycle.
A complicated operation like an organ transplant typically requires a lengthy stay in hospital and significant post-op care. Two major reasons for this are to prevent wounds from becoming infected, and regaining mobility. But what if there was a device patients could easily wear that helped both these areas so they could return home sooner?
geko™ is the name of a wearable created by British company Sky Medical Technology, specifically for patients who have had a kidney transplant. This small muscle pump activator is worn round the leg, transmitting painless electrical pulses to stimulate blood flow.
This prevents oedema, a common symptom of kidney disease caused by swelling due to a build-up of fluids, typically in the legs and ankles.
In a randomised controlled clinical trial at Canada's Lawson Health Research Institute, 221 transplant patients were either given a conventional compression stocking or the geko™ device for six days after their operation.
Researchers found that the patients wearing geko™ had less fluid retention as they were able to urinate more frequently. They experienced 31 per cent less swelling, and were able to return home several days earlier than patients wearing the compression stocking.
Perhaps the most remarkable outcome was the reduction in surgical site infections by nearly 60 per cent. Infections acquired in hospitals remain a huge problem worldwide, and transplant patients are at a particularly higher risk because of the immunosuppressant medication they need after an operation.
Dr. Alp Sener, who led the trial, said: "The study results have been both surprising and exciting. Not only have we cut down wound infection rates, but we have also seen a considerable improvement in the new organ's function following transplantation. Patients reported feeling more satisfied with the transplant process and are more mobile."
Sener is the Chair and Chief of Urology at Western University in Ontario. He added: "Reducing infection means a much better outcome for the patient and considering that recent data shows wound infections can cost the health care system thousands of dollars per person, it's a win-win situation."
Monitoring menstrual cycles
British medical device company Fertility Focus launched OvuFirst this year, a wearable sensor that helps women monitor their menstrual cycles. Worn on the arm or wrist overnight, it is alleged to be over 90% accurate at predicting ovulation, even for women with irregular cycles.
It works by measuring temperature multiple times through the night. A woman's body temperature tends to dip slightly just before the ovary releases an egg; 24 hours later it rises and remains at the same level for several days.
By downloading data from the OvuFirst sensor to a synchronised app each morning, it can track the ovulation period within an eight day window.
The sensor works in a similar way to the company's existing product OvuSense, which is inserted like a tampon. While OvuSense is aimed at women who have been trying to conceive for a while, the wearable version is for women who are in the first months of trying to conceive, designed to be as non-invasive and simple to use as possible.
“We took our revolutionary OvuSense patented technology proven in over 190,000 cycles of use, and used it to develop and test the most accurate skin-worn fertility monitoring sensor available on the market,” CEO Robert Milnes explained when the product launched.
“We are proud to offer a convenient and easy-to-use solution to assist and support women during the early stages of their fertility journey, whether that is trying to start a family, or simply learning more about their bodies and cycles.”
Advanced blood pressure monitoring
Perhaps the most common application of wearable technology is for measuring blood pressure. The prevalence of hypertension and its associated risks (it's frequently labelled "the silent killer") makes frequent blood pressure checks vital.
Traditionally blood pressure monitors that work remotely have been uncomfortable, noisy and disruptive, until smartwatches were enabled to do this, leading to a wide variety of cuffless devices.
The technology within these devices is evolving too. Pulse Transit Time (PTT) is the most common type of cuffless blood pressure monitors, the Apple Watch being one example.
However PTT monitors use two sensors and need frequent calibration. PPG blood pressure monitors (or photoplethysmography to give their full name) only have one sensor and don't need to be calibrated.
Valencell is a US-based biometric company that develops PPG sensors, and Dr. Steven LeBoeuf, President and Co-Founder, believes that PPG monitors are more accurate. "The advent of modern machine learning tools has helped earn PPG a solid edge in terms of accuracy, generality, and convenience" he says. "This is because the complexity of the PPG waveform and the richness of its features provide more information for machine learning approaches to “connect the dots” between PPG and blood pressure. "
Calibration-free, PPG monitoring is ideal for small wearable devices, and the remote blood pressure market is growing steadily each year - by 2025 it is projected to be worth almost $3 billion.
"By enabling accurate, cuffless, calibration-free blood pressure monitoring within familiar wearable form-factors, PPG-based monitoring solves this final technical challenge" LeBoeuf says. "Ultimately, the marketplace will see finger clips, rings, smartwatches, headphones, hearing aids, chest patches, and more incorporating PPG-BP technology. This will enable seamless monitoring throughout one’s daily activities, providing the feedback needed to target user-specific therapies, managing hypertension, improving public health, and reducing medical costs."
- This article appears in the August issue of Healthcare