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6/21/2010
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Healthcare Taking Computing To The Cloud

Cost, scalablity, and flexibility are reasons healthcare organizations are looking to move applications onto cloud computing models, says report.

While the healthcare sector has long been an IT laggard, the industry appears to be embracing cloud computing comparably to many other sectors.

Nearly one-third of healthcare sector decision makers said they are using cloud applications, and 73% said they are planning to move more applications to the cloud, according to a recent report by Accenture. Those figures fall in line with findings about cloud adoption plans in other industries, according to the report.

The Accenture report statistics were compiled from a study released in February by unified e-mail management services provider Mimecast which last fall surveyed 565 IT decision makers across several industries in the United States and Canada about their cloud plans.

The 32% of respondents in the healthcare sector using cloud applications were most similar to those in industries such as manufacturing, in which 32% of respondents in that sector also said they were using cloud applications; followed by respondents in education (29%) and retail (35%).

The 73% of healthcare industry respondents planning to move applications to the cloud were most similar to the 75% of respondents in the technology and government sectors who also intended to expand their use of the cloud.

There are several key reasons why healthcare sector IT leaders are moving applications into the cloud, said Dadong Wan, a senior research scientist at Accenture studying digital health trends and a co-author of the recent Accenture report examining cloud computing in healthcare.

Many of those reasons boil down to cost advantages and flexibility that cloud computing offers healthcare organizations, especially as they implement plans to meet the federal government's $20 billion-plus HITECH financial incentive programs for the meaningful use of IT.

"Cloud computing is a newer technology and compared to existing IT is newer and more cost advantageous" especially for the nation's thousands of small medical offices looking to deploy health IT, said Wan in an interview with InformationWeek.

Cloud models -- in which third parties host applications, storage, and access to computing power via the web -- provides "economies of scale," often giving two to 10 times the cost advantages of other computing models that would otherwise require healthcare providers to host servers onsite or hire in-house technical support to keep systems running, said Wan.

The cost advantages also reflect cloud computing models' ability to provide "raw computing resources, raw CPU cycles, and other capabilities" that aren't usually easily available or affordable for onsite computing configurations.

Also, cloud computing models have an "exoskeleton nature" that makes it easier to connect disparate systems from multiple organizations as well as multiple processes "end to end," such as e-prescribing, claims processing, and eligibility checks, which "cut across multiple stakeholders," said Wan.

Finally, while privacy and security are often among the concerns that healthcare providers express when discussing cloud-based models, typically cloud providers offer more robust security "than is available in-house," said Wan.

"Cloud players' livelihood is protecting data," he said.

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